ANOTHER indication that Maria Lourdes Sereno is seriously unhinged is her absurd claim, made right after the Supreme Court announced its majority decision to kick her out of the body, that the voting was actually “a victory” for her. She claimed that five of the eight members of the court should not have participated in the voting, which would have meant that only three wanted her out of the Court.
Read the SC decision, especially the dissenting opinions from those who voted to dismiss the Solicitor General’s petition to declare that Sereno didn’t have the warrant, i.e. the authority, to be Chief Justice. You will conclude that only two of the 14 justices thought her innocent and should retain her post.
Eight justices concluded both that she failed to meet the requirements to be Chief Justice as she had not filed her statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) for 11 years and that the Supreme Court has the authority to act on the quo warranto petition. Significantly, this group included Francis Jardeleza, a former Solicitor General, appointed to the court by President Aquino in 2014. (The others who voted to oust Sereno were Associate Justices Lucas Bersamin, Teresita de Castro, Alexander Gesmundo, Samuel Martires, Diosdado Peralta, Andres Reyes Jr., and Noel Tijam who wrote the 155-paged decision.)
The majority decision even went to the extent of ordering Sereno to “SHOW CAUSE within 10 days from receipt hereof why she should not be sanctioned for violating the Code of Professional Responsibility and the Code of Judicial Conduct for transgressing the sub judice rule and for casting aspersions and ill motives to the members of the Supreme Court.” That puts Sereno in danger of being disbarred, banned from practicing the legal profession.
In fact, Carpio devoted 23 of the 26 pages of his dissenting opinion going through a fine tooth-comb the Solicitor General’s allegations and demolishing each of Sereno’s defenses.
Prima facie proof
He concluded that the “UP’s Certification constitutes prima facie proof of respondent’s non-filing of her SALNs for a certain number of years during her employment at the UP College of Law. In other words, the OSG successfully satisfied the burden of proof by submitting the UP and Ombudsman Certifications which constituted prima facie evidence that respondent did not file her SALNs for the years 1986, 1987, 1988, 1992, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006, during which respondent was employed as a UP College of Law Professor.”
Carpio therefore had concluded that Sereno had failed to submit to the Judicial and Bar Council (the body that vets candidates for judicial posts) her SALNs as required. Carpio concluded that Sereno’s “repeated failure to file SALNs constitutes culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust.” Carpio therefore actually joined the other eight justices in concluding that Sereno must be ousted from the court.
What he dissented on is simply how this is to be done, and in the remaining three pages of his opinion, he concluded that this can only be done through an impeachment trial, endorsed by the House of Representatives and tried by the Senate. I wonder though if his dissent is really a brilliant tactic to argue that he is the most qualified to be Chief Justice now, as he voted against emptying the Chief Justice post.
Carpio even emphasized in his opinion that the Supreme Court must “refer to the Congress of the Philippines for possible inclusion of the acts constituting culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust, as found in the present case, in the ongoing impeachment proceedings against respondent Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno.” (italics mine).
While listed among the justices who dissented from the majority opinion, Presbitero Velasco, Jr., Mariano del Castillo and Estela Perlas-Bernabe in their dissenting opinions didn’t say a word about whether Sereno failed to comply with the SALN requirements or not. They therefore merely abstained from judging Sereno guilty or not in the matter of complying with the SALN law.
Only by Congress
Castillo echoed Carpio’s views that it is only Congress which can oust Sereno through the process of impeachment.
Velasco on the other hand claimed that the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) must first nullify its nomination of Sereno to the post, after which the Supreme Court will decide on whether to oust her or not. But that creates more questions. Does the JBC, whose function is to recommend to the President candidates to a judicial post have the power to withdraw its nominations, years after they made it and its composition changed? But the JBC is under the Supreme Court. Why would it give to a lower body the power to remove its Chief Justice?
The eight-member JBC is chaired by the Chief Justice, with its other members being currently the Justice Secretary, Sen. Richard Gordon, Rep. Rey Umali, former justice Jose Mendozaa, and three members representing the private sector. Isn’t it much fairer, and less complicated if the fate of the Chief Justice is decided by her peers?
Perlas-Bernabe, the second justice after Sereno appointed to the court by Aquino, echoed Velasco’s position, pointing out in her dissenting opinion that it is “for the JBC to determine if [there was] indeed any misrepresentation with respect to the filing of her SALNs.”
That Perlas-Bernabe abstained on judging whether Sereno ought to be ousted or not is obvious in her statement: “I make no claim that respondent is or is not a person of integrity. In fact, if there is one thing that is glaringly apparent from these proceedings, it is actually the lack of respondent’s candor and forthrightness in the submission of her SALNs.”
Just two justices
Just two justices really argued that Sereno is totally innocent of the failure-to-file-her-SALNs allegations – Marivic Leonen and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, appointed by Aquino in 2012 and 2016, respectively. Needless to say, Sereno is the great Yellow hope of making sure Aquino is never jailed for corruption or criminal negligence.
Leonen in an earlier press statement expressed the gist of their arguments, which only reflects a lack of real understanding of our rule of law: That SALNs are just pieces of paper, and therefore the submission of these papers or their non-submission cannot determine a person’s integrity to qualify for the Chief Justice post.
Sources claim that Leonen has been on this tack because he himself is worried about retaining his post, as he, like many UP academics, including Sereno, had not filed his SALNs when he was at the university, since not even in his wildest dreams did he think he would ever be a justice of the highest court of the land.
It is obvious why several senators are insisting that it is the Senate as an impeachment court that should decide on whether Sereno should be ousted or not as Chief Justice. They are simply salivating at the prospect, or hope, that they would be bribed with hundreds of millions of pesos of pork barrel money, as Aquino did when he took out Chief Justice Renato Corona. Or excited that President Duterte would have to be nice to them and offer them favors so they’d vote to kick out Sereno, as Aquino also did in 2012. At the end of the day though, there are only six diehard Yellow senators, with eight needed to block the two-thirds required to kick out Sereno in an impeachment trial.
Why as a nation do we have to go through such a tedious, time-consuming process, when the bottomline here really is that after six years, Aquino’s very unqualified and quarrelsome appointee to the Supreme Court must be booted out?
But this is how our republican system works. There will always be various interpretations of the Constitution as it applies to very specific, unique cases. But it is a body the Constitution specifies that will be the final interpreter of the law: the Supreme Court. And even there, its members will have different interpretations, so at the end of the day, it is the majority of its members that rule whether something is constitutional or not, legal or not.
Why the hell are some claiming so melodramatically that the Supreme Court decision to kick out Sereno means the end of democracy?