Circling the wagons
I write to take issue with former chief justice Artemio V. Panganiban’s column “Bewildering early retirements in SC” (4/18/21). Therein, he argued that the Supreme Court should reverse its decision ousting “its chief justice” via quo warranto, for being “harsh” (Republic v. Sereno, May 18, 2018).
I am one of the eight justices who rendered that 8-6 decision. Seven of us are now retired. Three of us became chief justice of the Supreme Court. One is currently the Ombudsman, another (also a former chief justice) is the chair of the Government Service Insurance System, while another is an incumbent member of the Judicial and Bar Council. The remaining two of us are retired and out of government.
All seven join me in disputing the views of the former chief justice, for varying reasons.
To remember, we rendered Republic v. Sereno on May 18, 2018. More than a year later, on Dec. 27, 2019, Karlo Eugenio Vicente filed a Petition for Quo Warranto against Justice Edgardo delos Santos, an incumbent justice of the Supreme Court (UDK 16579). Vicente wanted to oust Justice Delos Santos over his alleged actions in the handling of a labor case which led to his (Vicente’s) dismissal from employment. The Supreme Court, by minute resolution, dismissed the petition for, among others, “being the wrong remedy,” and for failure to pay the docket fees, etc. (Feb. 18, 2020).
Almost a full year later, or on Dec. 4, 2020, Vicente filed a “Petition for Certiorari on Appointment, Intrusion, or Fraud” (UDK 16579; 2020 10-15).
In the words of former chief justice Panganiban, this “new” petition alleged “basically the same grounds” of the petition dismissed in February. Yet, he proposes that it be treated as a motion for reconsideration, and taken up on the merits, as to give the Court an opportunity to reverse the 8-6 decision in Republic v. Sereno.
For one, as one former chief justice notes, the petition was correctly dismissed for being the “wrong remedy.” The dismissal became final, and cannot be revived more than a year after. For another, as another former chief justice opines, it collides with the holding of the Court in Gios-Samar v. DOTC (March 12, 2019).
For me, there is another reason for the Court to reject the “new” petition.
The editorial of this newspaper titled “Time to ‘pulverize sword of Damocles’” (4/21/21) puts more context into the full issue respecting the controversy.
The editorial correctly noted that last year a similar petition involving Associate Justice Marvic Leonen was filed, using the same strategy used against Sereno, that is, over the failure to file statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs). However, the justices “circled the wagons” and unanimously voted to reject the request for copies of Justice Leonen’s SALNs. The editorial refers to the summary ruling of the Court denying the request of lawyer Lorenzo Gadon to be furnished with the SALNs of Justice Leonen for the years 1990 to 2011 (A.M. No. 09-8-6 SC, Sept. 5, 2020).
What the editorial failed to state, however, for fuller context, is that on March 25, 2020, Speaker Lord Allan Velasco endorsed the impeachment complaint over, among others, the nonfiling by Justice Leonen of his University of the Philippines SALNs referred to above, to the House committee on rules (Philstar.com, 3/29/21).
Is the Court attempting to “circle the wagons” once more?
In other words, by its Sept. 15, 2020 order, the Court held the SALNs of its members off limits to everybody, including, it seems, Congress. With Republic v. Sereno overturned, then the House effectively is deprived of jurisdiction over a SALN count for impeachment.
By the way, the eighth affirmative vote in Republic v. Sereno was cast by the now chief justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines.
All considered, I maintain with even more cogency, now, the rationale of Republic v. Sereno.
Francis H. Jardeleza is a retired associate justice of the Supreme Court.
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