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With Due Respect

Pulverize the QW sword on June 15

Two recent events make it imperative for the Supreme Court to pulverize the self-inflicted sword of quo warranto (QW) dangling above the heads of the justices and to restore undiminished its constitutionally-granted independence by limiting their removal only via impeachment.

The first is the dismissal, 44-0, by the House Committee on Justice of the impeachment charge against Justice Marvic M. V. F. Leonen for alleged “lack of integrity” stemming from his supposed failure to file his statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN) in the University of the Philippines for 15 years prior to his ascension to the Court, and for his supposed failure to decide cases within 24 months.

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Notably, the House Committee did not return the impeachment complaint to the House Secretary General (per the House Rules), or to Edwin Cordevilla, the complainant, or to Ilocos Norte Rep. Angelo Marcos Barba, the endorser, for a correction of its “insufficiency in form.”

Had it done so, the complainant could have refiled it after its “insufficiency” is corrected. Instead, the Committee forthwith “dismissed” it with amazing alacrity on May 27, thereby preventing its refiling. Neither did it bother to determine its sufficiency in substance. As a consequence, J Leonen was granted immunity from any “impeachment proceedings… within a period of one year” per Art. XI, Sec. 3-5, Constitution.

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True, under Sec. 3-3 of the same Article, “[a] vote of at least one-third of all the Members of the House… [can] override” the Committee’s action. However, such override has no chance given (1) the unanimity of the votes, including that of the majority leader, Martin Romualdez, a relative of endorser Barba, (2) the open backing of Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, and (3) the unanimous support of the justices, as J Leonen himself acknowledged after the 44-0 vote was taken.

The second is the early retirement of Justice Edgardo L. Delos Santos. Per my column on April 18, J Delos Santos sent his staff a pained letter agonizing over his “decision to hang (his) judicial robe early…” without stating a precise reason therefor. This time, however, the Court “approved his request for optional retirement, effective June 30, 2021 (due) to his current state of health,” a year earlier than his 70th birthday on June 12, 2022.

Nonetheless, to grant him retirement benefits, the Court must first resolve the QW charge against him. Though this was dismissed last Feb. 18 due to procedural errors (“wrong remedy… failure to pay docket fees… etc.”), a new petition for certiorari had been filed alleging basically the same grounds.

The Court is now on recess, but when it resumes its en banc session on June 15, this petition is on its agenda. To reiterate, I believe the Court should waive the procedural errors, consider this new pleading as a motion for reconsideration, and take it up on the merits. Ample jurisprudence exempts cases with “transcendental importance” from the “paralysis of procedural niceties.” Indeed, the Court’s independence is of the highest transcendental importance that should be frontally faced at this first available opportunity.

Gallantly, the Court unanimously supported J Leonen in the impeachment attempt; with equal gallantry, it should also unanimously smash the QW sword to protect not just one member but all incumbent and future members.

Our Constitution mandates a stringent process to impeach and remove justices. It requires (1) “[a] vote of at least one-third of all the Members of the House” to craft and file the articles of impeachment, and (2) a “trial” in the Senate (3) where “[n]o person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of all (its) Members”ʍat least 16 of the 24 senators. It (4) makes no mention, not even a hint, of QW as a method to remove justices, and (5) no mention of the lack of SALNs as a ground therefor.

Yet, the Court ousted its CJ via QW for her failure to file SALNs prior to her incumbency without a Senate-style trial, and worse, by a simple majority of eight of its 14 members (the CJ inhibited).

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Finally, I believe the pulverization of QW as a judicial doctrine will not affect Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno since she is not a party in the pending petition. She has yet to disclose whether to ask for reinstatement as CJ or as AJ, or to apply for reappointment via the usual constitutional process, or to be given retirement benefits similar to that granted to CJ Renato C. Corona, or to do nothing.

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TAGS: Artemio V. Panganiban, Edgardo L. delos Santos, Marvic Leonen, Supreme Court quo warranto petitions, With Due Respect
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