The House of Representatives will dismiss an impeachment complaint against former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and will not recommend filing of charges against her, congressional leaders said on Tuesday.
House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas of Ilocos Norte made the announcement as the Supreme Court, via an 8-6 vote, made final its ruling sacking Sereno through quo warranto proceedings.
The quo warranto petition was filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida on grounds that Sereno failed to meet standards of integrity and probity when she failed to submit her complete Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth during her tenure as faculty member of the University of the Philippines College of Law to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) when she applied for the Chief Justice post in 2012.
Sereno argued, to no avail, that she should be given her day in the Senate impeachment court since the 1987 Constitution states that impeachable officials such as the Chief Justice can only be removed via impeachment and that the House and the Senate have the sole authority to initiate and resolve impeachment cases, respectively.
“With the finality of the decision of the Supreme Court in the quo warranto case dismissing and removing from office Maria Lourdes Sereno as Chief Justice, the Rules Committee will recommend to plenary the dismissal of the impeachment case against then-Chief Justice Sereno for being moot and academic since she is no longer a public officer subject to impeachment proceedings,” Fariñas said in a statement.
“Without any impeachable officer, there can be no impeachment proceedings,” he added.
Prior to Fariñas’ statement, House justice committee chairman Reynaldo Umali disclosed that the House of Representatives will not recommend the filing of charges against Sereno.
“That [filing of cases vs. Sereno]would depend on the executive. Our role here is just to prosecute here in the absence of quo warranto proceedings. We leave it to the executive department to pursue such filing of charges,” Umali told reporters in a chance interview.
“Our committee report is there and is a public document. As such, it could be a basis of pursuing cases, but that won’t be a legislative action anymore,” he said.
Umali said the JBC will be strict in evaluating applicants for Chief Justice to ensure that they are fully compliant with requirements such as the submission of SALN.
“Certainly, we will be strict on causes of disqualification. The Supreme Court decision was clear: Submitting SALN is not a simple requirement. It is a constitutional duty,” Umali, a member of the JBC, said.
He hinted that the next Chief Justice should be acceptable to the members of the High Court.
“A lot of them [candidates]are [considered]senior [in the court], and it is likely that we would follow tradition [of seniority]. We’ve already seen that if there are people who are bypassed [in the appointment], that will create conflicts in certain organization,” Umali said.
A feud between Associate Justice Teresita de Castro and the ousted Chief Justice over Sereno’s leadership style and demeanor was unearthed during the impeachment and quo warranto proceedings against Sereno.
Sereno was the youngest Chief Justice at 52.
The Senate leadership said the high court’s decision denying with finality Sereno’s appeal rendered “moot and academic” Resolution 738.
Fourteen senators filed on May 17 Resolution 738 expressing the sense of the Senate to uphold the Constitution on the matter of removing a chief justice, which is through impeachment.
Sought to react on the effect of the Supreme Court decision on Resolution 738, Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto said, “It becomes moot. Besides they admitted in the interpellation that it will be used in the Supreme Court.”
“Technically, we can still pass the resolution which expresses the sense of the Senate insofar as the quo warranto is concerned. There is nothing wrong with agreeing or disagreeing with a decision of the Supreme Court,” Sen. Franklin Drilon said.
“The majority in the Senate can assert that the issue is now academic and would therefore be reluctant to debate on the quo warranto resolution,” he added.
Signatories to Resolution 738 urged the Supreme Court to review its decision granting the quo warranto petition.
Those who signed the resolution were Drilon, Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel, Ralph Recto, Loren Legarda, Francis Pangilinan, Francis Escudero, Antonio Trillanes 4th, Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, Paolo Benigno “Bam Aquino, Grace Poe, Leila de Lima, Sherwin Gatchalian, Risa Hontiveros, and Joel Villanueva.
Sen. Joel Villanueva, however, said the chief justice should be removed through an impeachment process.
“Clearly, according to the Constitution, the Senate has the sole responsibility in exacting accountability to judicial appointees or impeachable officers,” he said.
The signatories said that the Supreme Court’s decision to grant the quo warranto petition “sets a dangerous precedent that transgresses the exclusive powers of the legislative branch to initiate, try, and decide all cases of impeachment.”
with BERNADETTE E. TAMAYO