In rare display of unity, majority, minority lawmakers slam Sereno's ouster

Audrey Morallo - Philstar.com
In rare display of unity, majority, minority lawmakers slam Sereno's ouster
Protesters display placards and shout slogans as they mass in front of the Philippine Supreme Court to rally for Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno Friday, May 11, 2018 in Manila, Philippines. Hundreds of pro-democracy protesters massed in front of the Philippine Supreme Court Friday to rally for the chief justice ahead of an expected vote by fellow justices on a government-backed petition to oust her in a move she calls unconstitutional.
AP / Bullit Marquez

MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers from both sides of the political fence on Friday disagreed with the decision of the Supreme Court to remove Maria Lourdes Sereno as chief justice, insisting that she can only be ousted through impeachment and warning that the ruling is an affront to the constitution.

In separate statements, some senators and congressmen expressed their dissent from the ruling of the Court siding with Solicitor General Jose Calida who filed the quo warranto petition questioning Sereno’s legal hold on her office.

The dissent from the landmark ruling was led by Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon.

In a statement, Pimentel and Drilon assailed the decision and stressed that Congress was the only institution that could remove impeachable officials such as Sereno.

“The Supreme Court is supreme in a lot of things but not in everything,” Pimentel said.

“The Chief Justice is an ‘impeachable official’ who can be removed only after impeachment by the House and conviction by the Senate,” the Senate president said.

READ: Slamming SC ouster of Sereno, Robredo vows fight not yet over

He said that the reputation of the high court now rests on the soundness of the arguments in the decision, penned by Justice Noel Tijam and supported by seven of his colleagues on the bench.

Pimentel said that the court should be given time to review its decision, noting that it’s not infallible and could still be swayed to change its course by a motion for reconsideration to be filed by Sereno’s lawyers.

Drilon, a former Senate president and justice secretary, said the quo warranto petition filed by Calida was not the “proper, legal and constitutional” way to remove an impeachable official.

The Senate minority leader warned that the decision had basically transformed the solicitor general into the “most powerful official in the bureaucracy,” more powerful than both the House and the Senate as far as impeaching government officials is concerned.

He said that with the decision an act of the solicitor general would be enough to initiate the removal of any impeachable officer.

“This decision has opened a bottomless pit of power for the solicitor general,” he said. “It is very sad episode in our political life.”

READ: After ouster, Sereno can't return to previous associate justice post

Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, president of the former ruling Liberal Party, labeled the ruling as an affront to the Constitution as he insisted that the position taken by the six dissenters as the correct one.

“It doesn’t mean that if many are in favor of the decision it’s correct. What the majority of justices did was a disrespect for the Constitution,” Pangilinan said.

READ: Historic SC ruling on Sereno ouster may have constitutional consequences

He called on Congress to assert its right and obligation under the Constitution that impeachment was the only way to remove a chief justice.

The decision was also met with opposition from two majority senators, Juan Edgardo Angara and Sherwin Gatchalian.

Angara said he did not agree with the decision as the only way to remove a chief justice was through impeachment, a point shared by Gatchalian.

He said that the 8-6 result was close and could mean a divided court on a very important constitutional issue.

“This means the ruling may not be a stable one and may be subject to revision going forward,” he said.

“The ripple effect of the decision may be felt in the coming months and years,” he added.

Gatchalian said that the decision basically “circumvented” the “crystal-clear” constitutional mandate that only Congress could remove an impeachable officer.

He said that he hoped the high court would revisit the ruling and recognize that the impeachment proceeding in the House as the exclusive legal means to oust Sereno.

Sen. Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV meanwhile said that the Filipino people were at the losing end of the ruling.

He said that the process stipulated by the Constitution was disregarded and the public was deprived of the opportunity to evaluate the case and know the truth about the accusations against Sereno.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said that the justices who favored the ouster of Sereno must not and would not go unpunished as he labeled the decision as the "the darkest hour in our democracy."

"The Supreme Court, which is supposed to be the cradle of our fragile Constitution, is the same body that killed it," Trillanes said in a statement.

Over at the House, two opposition members also slammed the decision and said that this was another proof the current administration’s disregard for the Constitution.

Rep. Gary Alejano (Magdalo) said that the Supreme Court veered away from jurisprudence and destroyed the faith of the people in the High Court.

“The fight is beyond the Chief Justice. This is a fight for democracy, and all of us have the responsibility to respond to the call,” Alejano said in a statement on the decision.

“It is bad enough that there are adversaries outside the judiciary trying to ruin the institution, but it is worse that there are destroyers within the Supreme Court itself,” he said.

Rep. Tom Villarin (Akbayan) lamented the ruling and said that it had dealt a fatal blow to what remains of the checks and balances in the country.

“SC decision ousting Sereno an unparalleled subversion of our democracy and trampled on the Constitution. It's a legal tsunami that flattened our justice system, even the hallowed grounds of Padre Faura caved in,” he said, adding that Sereno’s removal showed President Rodrigo Duterte’s resolve to crush all opposition to his authoritarian rule.





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