It’s final: Sereno is out

THE Supreme Court (SC) made final on Tuesday its decision to sack Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, reiterating its order to begin the process of selecting a new chief magistrate.

The Supreme Court en banc maintained its May 11 ruling with a vote of 8 against 6, as predicted by The Manila Times on Monday.

In a 27-page resolution penned by Associate Justice Noel Tijam, the high court denied the motion for reconsideration filed by Sereno for lack of merit.

The SC also ordered the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to speed up the nomination process for the next chief justice.

“Having settled respondent’s ineligibility and ouster from the position, the Court reiterates its directive to the JBC to immediately commence the application, nomination and recommendation process for the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court,” it said.

Maria Lourdes Sereno

The eight magistrates who ousted Sereno were Tijam and Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza, Samuel Martires, Andres Reyes and Alexander Gesmundo.

The dissenters were Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Mariano del Castillo, Marvic Leonen, Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa.

Sereno, the first woman and the youngest to become chief justice, was also the first chief justice to be kicked out of office through quo warranto proceedings, which determines the eligibility of person to occupy public office.
The justices agreed with Solicitor General Jose Calida, who filed the quo warranto petition, that Sereno lacked integrity for her failure to file her complete statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) when she applied for the post of chief justice.

“Respondent’s argument…dangerously disregards that the filing of SALN is not only a requirement under the law, but a positive duty required from every public officer or employee, first and foremost by the Constitution. The SALN laws were passed in aid of the enforcement of the Constitutional duty to submit a declaration under oath of one’s assets, liabilities and net worth. This positive Constitutional duty of filing one’s SALN is so sensitive and important that it even shares the same category as the Constitutional duty imposed upon public officers and employees to owe allegiance to the State and Constitution,” the court said.

“As such, offenses against the SALN laws are not ordinary offenses but violations of a duty which every public officer and employee owes to the State and the Constitution. In other words, violation of SALN laws, by itself, defeats any claim of integrity as it is inherently immoral to violate the will of the legislature and to violate the Constitution,” it added.

It rejected Sereno’s claim that she cannot be made liable for her incomplete SALN filings because her situation was similar to the case of Concerned Taxpayer vs Doblada Jr.

“As extensively discussed in the main Decision, respondent, unlike Doblada, did not present contrary proof to rebut the Certifications from U.P. HRDO that respondent’s SALNs for 1986, 1987, 1988, 1992, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 are not in its possession and from the Ombudsman that based on its records, there is no SALN filed by respondent except that for 1998. Being uncontroverted, these documents suffice to support this Court’s conclusion that respondent failed to file her SALNs in accordance with law.”

Tijam slammed Sereno for her allegation that the footnotes on the main decision were made as early as March 15, 2018, even before she was able to file her comment.

“Bordering on the absurd, respondent alleges prejudice based on the footnotes of the main Decision which show that the draft thereof was being prepared as early as March 15, 2018 when respondent has yet to file her Comment. Respondent forgets to mention that the Petition itself was filed on March 5, 2018 where the propriety of the remedy of quo warranto was specifically raised. Certainly, there is nothing irregular nor suspicious for the Member-in-Charge, nor for any of the Justices for that matter, to have made a requisite initial determination on the matter of jurisdiction. In professing such argument, respondent imputes fault on the part of the Justices for having been diligent in the performance of their work.”

Sereno: ‘I won’t back down’

Sereno, who had argued that the only way to remove her under the 1987 Constitution was through impeachment, said on Tuesday she need not be chief justice to defend the Charter.

“I do not have to be a chief justice to defend our laws and Constitution,” Sereno told her supporters in an event organized by the Coalition for Justice at University of the Philippines in Diliman on Tuesday.

“This woman does not back away from a fight, especially a just one,” she said.

Sereno also hit President Rodrigo Duterte for reappointing controversial officials, and reiterated that true justice needs accountability.

“We can only see so far that these officials are being recycled to other posts…do you intend to file charges against these officials after all?” she said.

Sereno also questioned Duterte for his “friendly ties” with China, his stand on the West Philippine Sea dispute, and his plans to shift to a federal form of government.

“We will continue to ask these questions and demand answers. Perhaps it is fitting as they forcibly closed a chapter in my life, we are opening a new chapter in the life of the nation on the birth anniversary of Gat Jose Rizal. The unity we have forged these past few months will be the foundation of a new people’s movement that will help Filipinos…understand important issues..We will fight!” she said.

The group Tindig Pilipinas called the Supreme Court a “court of the petty” after it affirmed Sereno’s ouster.

“We will not mince words. The removal of a chief justice based on the mere petition of Solicitor General Jose Calida surrenders the integrity of the judiciary to the overreach of an increasingly brutish executive,” the group said in a statement.

Every Woman, a women’s advocacy group, said that the Supreme Court “failed to act with objectivity and impartiality as it is sworn to do.”

“Neither did the Highest Court of the Land listen to the voices of the Filipino people who took to the streets, held vigil, and demanded truth and justice. Instead, it chose to affirm its earlier decision to kick out CJ Sereno through an unconstitutional quo warranto depriving her of her right to due process. This is unacceptable,” the group said.

Impeachment moot

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez welcomed the decision of the Supreme Court junking Sereno’s plea.

“The Supreme Court has spoken. Our constitution mandates the Supreme Court to be the final arbiter of legal and constitutional questions. Let us respect its decision, no matter what our persuasions are,” Alvarez, a lawyer, said in a statement.

“The Supreme Court ruling has also rendered moot and academic the impeachment proceedings against Sereno at the House of Representatives. As a consequence, we would now have to consign such proceedings to our archives,” Alvarez added.

Beginning of the end

For opposition lawmakers Tomasito Villarin of Akbayan party-list, Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna party-list, Antonio Tinio of Alliance of Concerned Teachers party-list, Ariel Casilao of Anakpawis party-list and Emerenciana de Jesus of Gabriela party-list, Sereno did not stand a chance against the Supreme Court justices who, they claimed, were ready to act on the President’s whims.

“It was a done deal sealed by Malacañang which now exercises omnipotent powers over the Supreme Court through the omnipresent quo warranto petition it can file against any Supreme Court justices and other impeachable officials,” Villarin said in a statement.

Zarate said: “What happened was not surprising since the justices who testified against her [during the impeachment proceedings]also refused to inhibit from deciding on former Chief Justice Sereno’s appeal. They went for unconstitutional removal of the former Chief Justice. This is a dark chapter in our history.”
De Jesus viewed the decision as a prelude to tyranny.

“This clearly reeks of tyrannical rule as it poses a dangerous precedent of circumventing judicial processes. This denies the public of the right to properly ascertain the merits of the complaints hurled against the Chief Justice as much as it denies Sereno of the proper venue where she can defend herself,” de Jesus said.

Casilao said “The Supreme Court allowed itself as a stamp pad of the executive branch to ultimately abandoning the rule of law, separation of powers and checks and balances in governance.”


The post It’s final: Sereno is out appeared first on The Manila Times Online.