How law students, professors are coping with Supreme Court’s decision to oust Sereno

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Law students and professors expressed their sentiments about the Supreme Court's decision to remove Maria Lourdes Sereno through quo warranto, citing that it goes against what they have studied about the Constitution. (Art by Uela Badayos)

Some law students and professors felt lost after the unprecedented removal of Maria Lourdes Sereno through a quo warranto petition which they thought goes against everything they learned when they were studying law.

Melencio Sta. Maria Jr., Dean of Far Eastern University’s Institute of Law, wrote a hopeful message for law students, saying that they should “make right what has been grotesquely damaged.”

“If you find that judicial independence, checks-and-balances ( the heart of a democratic system) and our freedoms are, in fact, the real victims of that decision, then equip yourselves with the legal know-how so that your generation of lawyers will be in a position to make right what you think has been grotesquely damaged,” he said.

“And if you think the foundations are crumbling due to some deeds of a few legal minds of questionable motivations, then study harder, yes even harder. To despair and do nothing perpetuates the wrong. Rise and rebuild,” Sta. Maria said.

Attorney Lauro Gacayan, a law professor in the University of the Cordilleras, admitted in a Facebook post that what he has been teaching for the past 30 years about the removal of impeachable officers “was wrong.”

“Starting today, what I was teaching for more than 3 decades turned out to be wrong. And for that, I am very sorry,” he said, referring to the Supreme Court’s 8-6 ruling that granted the quo warranto petition of the Solicitor General against Sereno.

“Unfortunately, the Decision of the majority of the Members of the Supreme Court who joined the deliberation forms part of the law of the land—whether they are right or wrong,” Gacayan said.

Some law students also lamented the removal of Sereno and what they perceived as a failure of the legal system.

Constitutional basis

Article XI, Section 2 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution states that “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.”

The quo warranto, however, is described by the Rules of Court as an action that may be filed against “a person who usurps, intrudes into, or unlawfully holds or exercises a public office, position or franchise.”

In a previous report, a Reddit user explained that it is “a very low form of law” that is not supposed to overrule the Constitution which is the highest law.

‘Democratic way of life in danger’ 

When Sereno was on leave as Chief Justice, she went to a forum in Ateneo Law School on April 25 and warned the audience about the “one-man rule” happening within the administration, citing that it’s a “dictatorship.”

“It is effectively dictatorship because the future of so many – the rights of so many – are being held in the hands of the solicitor general and his boss… our democratic way of life is in danger. We will fall into one-man rule,” she said.

“Would you law students, when you become lawyers, just play lackey to the Office of the Solicitor General and not fight for your client for fear of losing your case anyway because judges can be intimidated?” Sereno said. — Art by Uela Badayos