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ABS-CBN case brings to mind move against Sereno

/ 05:01 AM February 13, 2020

The quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida in the Supreme Court against ABS-CBN reminds us of the similar petition filed against former chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who is now a private citizen and continues to be a missionary voice to reckon with in matters of judicial reform.

That petition against Sereno had preempted Congress from exercising its sole power to initiate impeachment proceedings against her. The present petition against ABS-CBN also preempts Congress from the exercise of its sole power to renew (or not to renew and, therefore, terminate) the network’s franchise.

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This hastily filed petition against ABS-CBN should not get anyone thrown for a loop. It was all along expected to be set in motion, one way or another, following President Duterte’s never-ending tirades against that network.

From the looks of it, the Duterte-appointed solicitor general does not trust Congress to do his boss’ bidding fast enough, as seemed to be his thinking when he bypassed Congress and went for Sereno’s jugular via the Supreme Court. Such bold and brazen initiatives seem to explain away his gung-ho disregard of what many lawyers thought were traditional and well-entrenched legal procedures.

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In the case of ABS-CBN, it is being faulted for allegedly violating the terms and conditions of its validly existing and subsisting franchise. How is that a proper case for quo warranto, which deals only with its qualification for a network franchise now decades old?

In the case of Sereno, assuming that quo warranto was proper because her qualification for the post of chief justice was put squarely at issue, how was it proper to oust her as an associate justice, whose qualifications for that office were never put in question?

It bears stressing that only her appointment as chief justice was nullified — not her appointment as associate justice. When other associate justices applied for that post, they were never deemed to have relinquished their positions automatically. In fact, when their applications didn’t pan out in their favor, they went back to their previous jobs.

True that it was Sereno who got appointed and took an oath as chief justice, thereby vacating her previous post as associate justice. The nullification of her appointment and oath as chief justice simply meant, by any jurisprudential metric, that those enabling acts were deemed to have never happened at all, i.e., “non-existent for all intents and purposes.”

Unlike impeachment, quo warranto does not involve absolute and perpetual disqualification from holding public office. In fact, it is no impediment to being reappointed to the same office after the grounds for disqualification have disappeared.

Sereno should be deemed to have remained a member of the Supreme Court to this day. She is still many years away from the retirement age of 70. Too bad the former magistrate has slunk away from pursuing that righteous path, where she could have her own voice heard more loudly and usefully.

STEPHEN L. MONSANTO

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Quezon City

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TAGS: ABS-CBN franchise, Jose Calida, letter, Maria Lourdes Sereno, quo warranto petition, Rodrigo Duterte, Stephen L. Monsanto
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