Ousted Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno (C) is helped onto a stage to deliver a speech to supporters in front of the supreme court building in Manila on May 11, 2018. Judges of the Philippines' top court voted on May 11 to remove their chief justice, who faced ouster efforts after battling with President Rodrigo Duterte over his deadly war on drugs.
AFP/Ted Aljube
Point by point: Why Supreme Court granted ouster petition vs Sereno
Ian Nicolas Cigaral (Philstar.com) - May 11, 2018 - 8:11pm

MANILA, Philippines — In an unprecedented move that political watchers say undermines the independence of the judiciary, the Supreme Court on Friday voted to nullify the appointment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, whom President Rodrigo Duterte branded as his “enemy.”

Voting 8-6 in a special en banc session, the SC ruled that Sereno was “guilty of unlawfully holding” the top magistrate position. The high tribunal only took two months to decide on Solicitor General Jose Calida's “quo warranto” petition, which challenged the legality of Sereno's appointment mainly on the grounds of missing wealth declarations.

Some say Friday's ruling paves the way for a constitutional crisis, wherein the high court has assumed a function the fundamental law grants solely to Congress—to oust the top magistrate through impeachment proceedings. The ongoing proceeding at the lower house that comes before a Senate-led trial is now invalidated.

Associate Justice Noel Tijam penned the decision.

Below are the reasons given by the SC in granting the petition filed by the government’s chief legal counsel:

The Court has jurisdiction over the instant petition for quo warranto

Citing the Constitution and the Rules of Court, the SC said it has concurrent jurisdiction with the Court of Appeals and the Regional Trial Court over petitions like quo warranto.

“The issue of whether a person usurps, intrudes into, or unlawfully holds or exercises a public office is a matter of public concern over which the government takes special interest as it obviously cannot allow an intruder or impostor to occupy a public position,” the SC said.

The instant petition is a case of transcendental importance

“The instant petition is one of first impression and of paramount importance to the public in the sense that the qualification, eligibility and appointment of an incumbent Chief Justice, the highest official of the Judiciary, are being scrutinized through an action for quo warranto,” the SC said.

The origin, nature and purpose of impeachment and quo warranto are materially different

At its most basic, impeachment proceedings are political in nature, while an action for quo warranto is judicial or a proceeding traditionally lodged in the courts, the SC said.

Quo warranto and impeachment can proceed independently and simultaneously

According to the SC, quo warranto and impeachment may proceed independently of each other as these remedies are distinct in terms of jurisdiction, grounds, applicable rules pertaining to initiation, filing and dismissal, and limitations.

Impeachment is not an exclusive remedy to remove “invalidly” appointed/elected impeachable official

“To subscribe to the view that appointments or election of impeachable officers are outside judicial review is to cleanse their appointments or election of any possible defect pertaining to the Constitutionally-prescribed qualifications which cannot otherwise be raised in an impeachment proceeding,” the SC said.

“The courts should be able to inquire into the validity of appointments even of impeachable officers,” it added.

The Supreme Court’s exercise of its jurisdiction over a quo warranto petition does not violate the separation of powers

Given the nature and effect of an action for quo warranto, the SC said such a remedy is “unavailing to determine” whether or not an official has committed misconduct in office “nor is it the proper legal vehicle” to evaluate the person's performance in the office.

“An action for quo warranto does not try a person's culpability of an impeachment offense,” the court said.

No constitutional crisis

The SC also maintained that there can be no constitutional crisis, arguing that the Constitution itself provides the means and bases for the resolution of the “conflict.”

“The Court's exercise of jurisdiction over an action for quo warranto falls within the ambit of its judicial power to settle justiciable issues or actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable,” it said.

FULL TEXT: The Supreme Court decision against Maria Lourdes Sereno

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