SolGen files quo warranto petition vs. Sereno

MANILA — The Office of Solicitor General (OSG) on Monday filed a petition before the Supreme Court (SC) seeking to nullify the appointment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

In a 34-page petition for quo warranto, Solicitor General Jose Calida seeks SC to declare Sereno’s appointment on August 24, 2012 as Chief Justice as void and oust her from the judiciary’s top post.

The petition emanated from a letter filed by suspended lawyer Eligio Mallari, urging Calida to initiate a quo warranto proceeding against the top magistrate.

Last Feb. 21, Mallari, who called Sereno a “de facto chief justice”, asked the OSG to initiate a quo warranto proceeding against her.

Under Rule 66 of the Rules of Court, a quo warranto proceeding is an action by the government against a person who unlawfully holds a public office or holds a position where he or she is not qualified.

Calida insisted that a quo warranto proceeding is a “proper remedy to question the validity of Sereno’s appointment.”

“Petition for Quo Warranto at the Supreme Court where you will be judged by your peers who know you and the Constitution better,” Calida said in a press conference.

Sereno’s camp has earlier dismissed Mallari’s petition, insisting that an impeachment is the only way to oust the chief magistrate.

But the Solicitor General argued that an impeachment proceeding is different from a quo warranto proceeding.

“Your lawyer-spokepersons argued before media that there is only one option to oust an impeachable officer and that is through impeachment. They are horribly wrong. A lawyer who has a basic grasp of our Constitution and jurisprudence ought to know that Impeachment and Quo Warranto are two entirely different proceedings with entirely different grounds for filing,” he explained.

Calida said that these two proceedings run on different tracks.

The top government counsel said the first track is Section 2, Article XI of the Constitution which provides that impeachable officers may be removed from office on impeachment and conviction of culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes or betrayal of public trust. The unwritten assumption here is that the officer was eligible and that his assumption of office was valid. That is not our route in the Sereno case.

The second track is Quo Warranto. This is the proper remedy to question the validity of Sereno’s appointment. Quo Warranto is recognized as an extraordinary legal remedy sanctioned not only by the Rules of Court, law and jurisprudence but by the Constitution itself whereby the State challenges a person to show by what authority he holds a public office or exercises a public franchise.

Calida also said that constitutional basis for ousting Sereno from her office are the following:

Section 5 (1), Article VIII of the Constitution empowers the Supreme Court to exercise original jurisdiction over Quo Warranto cases, among others.

Section 7 (3) Article VIII of the Constitution insists that a Member of the Judiciary must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence. Unfortunately for respondent Sereno she flunked the test of integrity when she failed to file more or less 10 SALNs.

Section 17, Article XI (Accountability of Public Officers) requires the submission of SALNs as often as maybe required by law (RA 3109). The blatant disregard by respondent Sereno to comply with the requirements of the law and Constitution proves her lack of integrity hence, she is unlawfully holding the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Calida also said that his filing of a quo warranto proceeding against Sereno is “an act of kindness.”

“I don’t expect you to appreciate this but believe me, this is an act of kindness to a fellow lawyer,” he said.

“The Office of the Solicitor General will not allow you to undergo the indignity that the late Chief Justice Renato Corona suffered at the hands of politicians who unjustly convicted him. You do not deserve that,” Calida said.

Sereno will also be given a chance to answer the allegations against her, Calida added.

Sereno is facing an impeachment trial for alleged culpable violation of the Constitution, corruption, other high crimes and betrayal of public trust.

The House of Representatives justice panel is set to vote on whether the complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon has probable cause to oust Sereno on March 8.

Asked if he will ask for a halt order on the proceeding at the House of Representatives, Calida insisted that the quo warranto proceeding is different from the impeachment.

“They can proceed with their impeachment. Insofar as we are concerned, proper remedy is quo warranto,” Calida told reporters.

Petition ‘baseless’

Sereno’s camp, meanwhile, urged the SC to dismiss the quo warranto petition, noting that it has no legal basis.

“The Supreme Court ought not to entertain the quo warranto petition for it has absolutely no basis in law and in the Constitution. The high tribunal should dismiss the petition outright on the basis that quo warranto is not a proper remedy. Under the 1987 Constitution, the Chief Justice may only be removed from office upon impeachment by the House of Representatives and conviction by the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court,” Sereno said in a statement sent to reporters covering Supreme Court.

“We wish to reiterate that this latest action by the Solicitor General is part and parcel of the grand plan to harass, malign and humiliate the Chief Justice to force her to resign because her detractors know that the impeachment case, which was built on lies, won’t stand a chance in the Senate,” read the statement.

Sereno also called the OSG’s move a ‘cruel act’ towards the Filipino people, stressing that she is ready to face trial and disprove all allegations against her before the Senate, which is the only body or institution that can remove her from office via two-thirds vote of all its members.

The Chief Justice’s camp also said the instant action for quo warranto against her is devoid of basis, not to mention that the one-year prescriptive period for filing such action has long prescribed pursuant to Section 11 of Rule 66 of the Rules of Court.

They also explained the Supreme Court, guided by its pronouncements in Jarque v. Ombudsman, In Re: Raul M. Gonzales and Cuenco v. Fernan, had laid down the rule that an impeachable officer, who is a member of the Bar, cannot be disbarred without first being impeached. The same principle applies to the quo warranto case filed against the Chief Justice. As pointed out in Cuenco v. Fernan, to grant a complaint for disbarment of a member of the Supreme Court—particularly then Associate Justice Marcelo Fernan, who later became Chief Justice— during his incumbency, would in effect be to circumvent and hence to run afoul of the constitutional mandate that members of the Court may be removed from office only by impeachment for and conviction of certain offenses listed in Article XI (2) of the Constitution.

The 1987 Constitution is crystal clear: it explicitly states that (1) an impeachable official can only be removed from office by impeachment; (2) that the sole power to impeach an official belongs to the House of Representatives; and (3) the sole court for impeachment trials is the Senate. Any attempt to remove the Chief Justice that does not fall under these parameters is patently unconstitutional. All attempts to unseat the Chief Justice via extra-constitutional means make a mockery of the impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives and, subsequently, the impeachment trial in the Senate.

Art. XI Section 2. The President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Supreme Court, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust. All other public officers and employees may be removed from office as provided by law, but not by impeachment.

Sereno, who is currently on indefinite leave, earlier said her leave is meant for her to prepare her legal defense in her impeachment case, which is expected to reach the Senate anytime soon.

Sereno is facing an impeachment trial for alleged culpable violation of the Constitution, corruption, other high crimes and betrayal of public trust.

The complaint was filed by lawyer Larry Gadon who claimed that Sereno did not declare in her SALN the “exorbitant lawyer’s fees” of USD745,000 or PHP37 million which she received from the Philippine government.

The impeachment complainant said the issue of SALN declaration is the strongest case presented against Sereno.

The complaint also alleged that Sereno committed corruption when she, among other things, used public funds to finance her extravagant and lavish lifestyle by ordering the purchase of a brand-new luxurious Toyota Land Cruiser 2017 model as her personal vehicle, amounting to more than PHP5 million; and stay in opulent hotels when attending conferences in the country and abroad.