Red ribbons symbolizing opposition to Chief Justice Maria Lourders Sereno are tied on the gate of the Supreme Court in Manila yesterday, a day before justices vote on a petition to nullify her appointment.
Miguel de Guzman
Rep. Reynaldo Umali: ‘SC to oust Sereno, 11-3’
Edu Punay, Jess Diaz, Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - May 11, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — As a “foregone conclusion” to ouster moves against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, her fellow magistrates will have her removed by voting in favor of the solicitor general’s petition declaring her appointment as invalid, Mindoro Oriental Rep. Reynaldo Umali said yesterday.

In an interview over dzMM, Umali said his fearless forecast on the vote is 11 for removing Sereno and three against.

This developed as the Supreme Court (SC) is set to vote on Solicitor General Jose Calida’s quo warranto petition today in special session.

If the petition gets the vote of a majority of the justices, it will mean an abrupt end to Sereno’s unprecedented 18-year term. If it gets junked, administration lawmakers are sure to proceed with the impeachment case against her.

Umali chairs the House of Representatives committee on justice that voted to recommend the impeachment of Sereno before lawmakers went on their eight-week Lenten vacation in March.

In February, when the camp of the Chief Justice announced that she was going on a 15-day wellness leave, Umali corrected the statement, saying it was actually an “indefinite leave forced upon her by her colleagues.”

He made the correction just hours after Sereno informed her colleagues during their regular Tuesday weekly session that she would be taking a leave of absence.

It later turned out that Umali’s version of the story was correct. Asked by reporters where he got his information, he said he had sources inside the SC.

In his radio interview, Umali said the House would send the impeachment case against Sereno to the Senate for trial if her own colleagues do not remove her.

“We have already voted in the committee level and I don’t expect a different result in plenary,” he said.

The House does not have to transmit the case to the Senate if the SC ousts Sereno, since the penalty in an impeachment trial is the removal of the impeached officer.

Last month, before leaving for China to attend the Boao Forum, President Duterte claimed that the incumbent Chief Justice was “bad” for the country.

“I am putting on notice that I am now your enemy. And you have to be out of the Supreme Court,” he said.

Duterte said he would ask Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to expedite the transmittal of the impeachment complaint to the Senate.

“I am asking Congress, what’s taking you long? Do not create any crisis in this country. I will not hesitate to do what is to the best interest of my country. If it calls for your forced removal, I will do it,” he said.

Duterte also asked Calida to do his best in defending his quo warranto case against Sereno.

The President was incensed by Sereno’s insistence that he was behind Calida’s petition, which Duterte denied.

“I already told you Sereno that I did not meddle. If you are insisting, then count me in. Count me in and I will egg Calida (on) to do his best,” he said.

The Chief Justice has repeatedly asked her House impeachers and SC critics to give her day in the Senate impeachment court, where she hopes to get a fair trial.

She has told her colleagues that the Constitution provides that an impeachable officer could be removed only through the impeachment process.

Bulletproof cars

For today’s special session, many of the SC justices will reportedly arrive in bulletproof vehicles.

Sereno, who reported back to her office after taking an indefinite leave since March 1, will preside over the session that starts at 10 a.m.

The embattled Chief Justice will stay in the session while other cases in the agenda are being tackled.

But once the quo warranto case against her is called for deliberation, she will be required to step out of the room due to mandatory inhibition, being the respondent in the case.

Reports have it that the 150-page SC ruling penned by Associate Justice Noel Tijam would declare Sereno “disqualified” as chief justice due to her ineligibility to hold the position and for being “guilty of unlawfully holding and exercising the Office of the Chief Justice.”

It would also declare the position of chief justice vacant and direct the Judicial and Bar Council to start the selection process for a new SC chief. The decision would also be immediately executory.

Sereno may file a motion for reconsideration as provided for in the Rules of Court, but would have to vacate her post while waiting for the action of the Court on her appeal.

The high court’s decision will hinge on the requirement of proven integrity for positions in the SC as required in the 1987 Constitution, according to earlier reports quoting court insiders.

After hearing the case in oral arguments last April 10, most of the justices supposedly found Sereno’s failure to file her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth as a clear indication of dishonesty and lack of integrity.

Sereno’s ineligibility supposedly could not be cured by her nomination and eventual appointment as chief justice during the previous administration.

An SC ruling would make the impeachment proceedings in Congress moot and academic.

Supporters of Sereno are set to gather outside the SC compound on Padre Faura Street for what they dubbed as “Jericho March for Justice.” Groups including Coalition for Justice and militant organization Sanlakas are joining the protest rally.

Judges and court employees, on the other hand, are ready with their “Red Friday” to dramatize their support for moves to oust Sereno.

Law deans have also closed ranks behind Sereno and called on the SC to junk the quo warranto petition.

In a manifesto entitled “A Call for Adherence to Constitutional Process” published in The STAR yesterday, over 130 law school deans and professors supported Sereno’s argument that removing her via quo warranto would be a violation of the Constitution, which provides for ouster of SC justices only via impeachment in Congress.

They warned that the quo warranto petition, if granted by the Court, “will expose those involved to the same vicious cycle of extrajudicial removal process which will subvert the constitutional check and balance and endanger judicial independence.”

They said law schools have taught them that the only way to remove a sitting chief justice under the Constitution is through an impeachment by the House of Representatives and conviction after trial by the Senate sitting as the impeachment court.

“Any other means would be unconstitutional... Let the impeachment of the Chief Justice take its course as the Constitution dictates. Let the trial in the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, begin. Allow the Chief Justice to defend herself in the impeachment trial,” read the manifesto.

Among those who signed the manifesto were former solicitor general Florin Hilbay, De La Salle College of Law dean Jose Manuel Diokno and Far Eastern University Institute of Law dean Melencio Sta. Maria – who have all vocally supported Sereno at the onset of the impeachment case against her in Congress.    

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, meanwhile, said there was nothing irregular about Sereno’s ending her leave as she is, after all, still the chief magistrate.

A member of the Senate minority bloc and the president of the Liberal Party, Pangilinan said Sereno “is still the Chief Justice and her leave did not provide specific period.”

“So unless she herself participates in the proceedings involving her which she has said she will not do, then I see nothing illegal in her decision to end her indefinite leave,” he said.

Detained Sen. Leila de Lima earlier urged her colleagues to file a resolution urging the SC to suspend its proceedings on the quo warranto petition against Sereno.  

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