MANILA – The move of Solicitor General Jose Calida to file on Monday a quo warranto case to have the Supreme Court void the appointment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is a “legitimate act of the Office of the Solicitor General,” but its goal to unseat her outside of the impeachment process seems to have a borderline constitutional basis, the presiding judge in a possible impeachment trial said.
“Under the Constitution, the meaning of the provision literally is that once in position, the high-ranking officials can only be removed from their positions through impeachment. If you invent some other proceeding which will result in the removal from office then that should violate that provision in the Constitution. Pag-aralan mabuti kasi medyo malabo [That quo warranto route needs careful study because its premise seems tenuous],” Senate President Koko Pimentel told reporters.
Pimentel added that the people – especially those “excited to oust the Chief Justice” – should know that the Senate is ready to convene as an impeachment court, as mandated by the Constitution, once the House of Representatives transmits the Articles of Impeachment against Sereno. “We are ready, willing and able to conduct the impeachment proceeding. Basta yung avenue na ‘yun, available po sa Senado yun [That avenue is in the Senate]. And also to assure the respondent, the Chief Justice, we will be fair. Kung walang ebidensya, acquit yan. Pero kung may ebidensya na, ibang usapan na ‘yun. Pwede ring ma-convict yun [If there’s no evidence, she’ll be acquitted. But if there is, that’s another matter. It could end in conviction],” added the Senate chief.
He said he had not read the Calida quo warranto petition filed Monday morning, but added that the matter deserved serious study because in the “Constitutional provision [the] message that we get is that the only way to remove these high-ranking government officials who are so-called impeachable officials is through impeachment. If all of a sudden there is another way to remove them, [then] where is that found? Yun ang tanong [That’s the question].
Earlier, some quarters had said that the plan to file a quo warranto to have the SC declare Sereno’s appointment by President Benigno Aquino III as invalid for her failure to fulfill all the basic requirements – especially her non-filing for 10 years of SALNs – was an implied admission by her critics that the impeachment complaint being heard in the House Justice committee is weak. The House panel members are expected to vote soon on whether there is probable cause to proceed with the complaint, and transmit the case to the Senate for trial.
Last Friday (March 2), Sereno herself dared her House critics to transmit the articles of impeachment quickly to the Senate so “I can have my day” in impeachment court, or admit there is no probable cause.
Meanwhile, other lawmakers have weighed in on whether or not the quo warranto route is a constitutional means for removing a Chief Justice. Under the Constitution, the President, Vice President and Chief Justice, as well as heads of constitutional bodies, may only be removed by impeachment.
Sen. Bam Aquino said the House and the Senate should simply be allowed to do their constitutional duties in the impeachment process.
Similar views were raised earlier by Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Kiko Pangilinan, Antonio Trillanes IV and Risa Hontiveros.
SERENO CAMP: DON’T ENTERTAIN CALIDA PETITION
The camp of Sereno said the Supreme Court should not entertain the quo warranto petition “for it has absolutely no basis in law and in the Constitution.”
The SC “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,” said the lawyers for Sereno.
“The instant action for quo warranto against the Chief Justice 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 added.
Here’s the rest of their argument: “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.
The chief justice’s camp viewed the action by the Solicitor General as “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.”
Sereno’s camp said 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. She will not back down in her fight for truth and justice.”