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With Due Respect

Let history be the judge

In his commentary last May 8, retired Justice Francis H. Jardeleza took issue with my April 8 column that labelled as “harsh” the decision in Republic v. Sereno (May 18, 2018) ousting the chief justice via quo warranto (QW) by the narrow vote of 8-6.

He wrote that “all seven [of the eight] join” him “in disputing (my) views for varying reasons.” With a hint of pride, he added that four of the eight “became chief justice… [o]ne 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… are retired and out of government.” At this point, I will refrain from commenting on the posts and benefits they reached or gained after ousting their chief.

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Let me just quote, for clarity’s sake, a portion of my column that summarizes my position: “The Court has a new composition — seven of the eight who voted for the decision have retired. It is time to restore the shroud granted by the Constitution to the Supreme Court to protect its independence: Justices may be removed only by impeachment, and only for the grounds clearly provided therein.”

J Jardeleza did not directly rebut the foregoing substantive issue. Rather, he pointed to Gios-Samar v. DOTC (March 12, 2019) and other cases that bar petitions dismissed due to procedural deficiencies from being revived via a new petition for certiorari.

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I believe, however, that ample jurisprudence exempts cases with “transcendental importance” from the “paralysis of procedural niceties.” In my humble opinion, the Court’s independence is of the highest transcendental importance to the nation; it should be taken up at the first available opportunity.

Clearly, I will not personally reach any high post or gain anything whether the current Court upholds my views or not, and I will respectfully decline if offered any such posts or gains. I stand firmly on my only aim: To restore independence to our beloved Supreme Court.

Now, allow me to explain why I called the decision “harsh,” an explanation not taken up in my earlier piece. First, by its own terms, the Sereno ponencia was “immediately executory without need of further action…” Thus, the chief was evicted on the very day the decision came out—before it became final, and before the period for filing a motion for reconsideration (MR) had lapsed. Why the inexplicable haste? Even hardened criminals convicted of the most despicable crimes are allowed 15 days to file their MRs before their judgments became executory.

Second, she was expunged from the list of CJs, stripped of the honor of being the first woman-chief, and her picture excluded from the Court’s Gallery of Chief Justices.

Third, she was deprived of retirement benefits though she had served as CJ for six years—longer than some predecessors and more than all her successors. Yet, in 2009, a justice found guilty of leaking a partially-signed decision, suspended indefinitely from the Court and from law practice, and disqualified from holding any government position was not immediately evicted; moreover, he was allowed the usual 15 days to file an MR, eventually forgiven in 2013, and all his remaining penalties lifted in 2014. And yet, too, a constitutionally impeached and removed CJ was included in the Gallery of CJs and eventually granted retirement benefits.

To reverse or not to reverse the harsh decision, I leave to the sound discretion of my beloved Court with its new composition. Let me just pose these questions perturbing this ancient retired CJ:

Is it just, ethical, and wise to continue dangling “the self-inflicted sword of Damocles” over the heads of incoming justices who had nothing to do with the Sereno decision and its complicated antecedents, and to risk their removal (or humiliation) via QW by the present and future administrations?

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Is it just, ethical, and wise for the justices who testified during the House impeachment proceedings to have participated and voted in the QW case? (To be fair, the present chief is not one of them.)

Is it just, ethical, and wise for them to have accepted the new post and benefits created by their acts and votes?

And, is it just, ethical, and wise for then Senior Justice Antonio T. Carpio, one of the six dissenters, to have declined his nomination for the CJ post created despite his dissent?

The answers need not be given now. Let us pause and reflect. And let history be the judge.

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TAGS: Artemio V. Panganiban, Francis H. Jardeleza, Maria Lourdes Sereno, Sereno impeachment, With Due Respect
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