MANILA – You may succeed in ousting her outside of the impeachment process, but your unconstitutional act can be grounds for prosecuting you later. That’s the warning issued Sunday by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV to Supreme Court justices amid reports that the move of magistrates last week to force Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to go on “indefinite leave” was a prelude to ousting her without impeachment, the only process for removal ordained by the Constitution.
“Any attempt to remove the Chief Justice through a process other than impeachment is unconstitutional. It will be a brazen usurpation of the exclusive power of Congress under the Constitution,” Trillanes said in a statement Sunday.
He added: “In view of reports that certain SC Justices, headed by AJ [Associate Justice] Marvic Leonen are maneuvering to force the unconstitutional removal of CJ Sereno, may I remind these justices that any unconstitutional act they commit now, can be used as a ground for impeachment against them later on under a different administration.”
Trillanes said that “for those who are retired by then, these acts can and will be used as basis for graft cases.”
Some quarters had described the move by 13 associate justices against Sereno as a “mutiny” of sorts, even as the chief justice was reported preparing for an impeachment trial on the basis of complaints that the House Committee on Justice had been hearing since late 2017.
On Sunday, the House Justice panel’s chairman said the committee has begun drafting the articles of impeachment against Sereno for transmittal to the Senate for trial.
Rep. Reynaldo Umali said in a radio interview the panel members are expected to vote very soon on whether or not there is probable cause in the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon.
In an out of town event Friday, Sereno herself had dared the House of Representatives to transmit the complaint with dispatch to the Senate so she can have her day in impeachment court, or admit there is no probable cause.
There had been concern in some quarters last week that a quo warranto case filed by some lawyers seeking to have Sereno’s appointment by then-President Benigno Simeon Aquino III as void from the start, and the associate justices’ pressure for Sereno to go on leave might be means for removing her outside of impeachment process, if she will not resign.
In her Baguio City appearance on Friday, Sereno had reiterated she will not resign and would rather be tried by the Senate, amid concern she might face the same fate as her predecessor. In May 2012, the Senate voted 20-3 to convict then Chief Justice Renato Corona guilty after a trial that lasted four and a half months.