Senate body sets hearing on SC's quo warranto ruling

Marvin Sy - The Philippine Star
Senate body sets hearing on SC's quo warranto ruling
Signed by 14 senators, Senate Resolution 738 expresses the sense “to uphold the Constitution on the matter of removing a Chief Justice from office and respectfully urge the Supreme Court to review its decision to nullify the appointment of Maria Lourdes Sereno as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines.”
AP / Bullit Marquez

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate committee on rules is set to take up on Monday the minority bloc resolution on the Supreme Court (SC)’s ruling on the quo warranto petition filed against ousted chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Signed by 14 senators, Senate Resolution 738 expresses the sense “to uphold the Constitution on the matter of removing a Chief Justice from office and respectfully urge the Supreme Court to review its decision to nullify the appointment of Maria Lourdes Sereno as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines.”

The 14 senators – Francis Pangilinan, Francis Escudero, Antonio Trillanes IV, Sonny Angara, Leila de Lima, Grace Poe, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, Sherwin Gatchalian, Risa Hontiveros, Joel Villanueva, Loren Legarda, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto and former Senate president Aquilino Pimentel III – were one in their position that the Senate has the exclusive power under the Constitution to remove an impeachable official, such as the Chief Justice, accused of wrongdoing through an impeachment trial.

By ruling on the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida, they said the high court effectively took away that power of the Senate.

Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, who chairs the committee on rules, said the committee would hear it Monday and might bring it to the floor for debates.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, who did not sign the resolution, said he has no intention of interfering with the committee’s action as he also reiterated his personal position of not interfering with the work of the judiciary.

He clarified that he was not asked to sign the resolution and that he is neutral on the matter and would listen to all sides before “I would infuse my opinion.” 

“I’m willing to vote for it if during the debates I am convinced (to support it),” Sotto added.

Many of the senators who did not sign the resolution shared the sentiments of Sotto about not wanting to interfere with the processes of the SC.

At the House of Representatives, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said the planned impeachment complaint against the eight SC justices, who ousted Sereno, does not have a leg to stand on “legally and figuratively.” 

“I don’t think the justices violated the Constitution. In the exercise of separation of powers, they acted within their powers as provided for in the Constitution,” the leader of the 292-member House said.

He insisted that the eight justices should not be punished for doing their duties, in apparent reference to the plan of the group of seven lawmakers, who claimed they are the “Magnificent 7,” to initiate and endorse an impeachment complaint against the magistrates. 

Members of the super majority coalition in the chamber number around 250. 

Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza made the same remark as he refuted the claims of the group of Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, who call themselves independent opposition, that the act of the eight justices is an impeachable offense. 

“Let’s not forget, only the SC interprets the Constitution. How can you impeach a justice performing his acts, duties? What do we really want? A political decision or a legal interpretation?” Atienza asked. 

He added that he prefers a ruling deliberated upon by the SC justices in a collegial and democratic manner rather than a Senate trial that is obviously a political exercise borne out of the fact that senators will be sitting as judges. 

“We only have one SC. Only one body interprets the law – and that is the SC. Now, whether you are for or against the decision, we have to respect the SC decision,” the former three-term Manila mayor said yesterday, emphasizing that rule of law should prevail no matter what. 

“The SC is dependable and legal. When you start questioning the SC, you start questioning the fundamental law of the land,” Atienza stressed, noting that SC rulings form part of the country’s laws.  

House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez disowned the small group of independent opposition lawmakers led by Lagman, who vowed to file an impeachment complaint against the eight magistrates who ejected Sereno from the judiciary.  

“We are the real minority group,” the veteran congressman from Quezon province said. 

Reps. Alfredo Garbin Jr. (Ako Bicol) and Eugene de Vera (ABS) – both lawyers – took different legal opinions, the former saying he opposes the SC ruling and believes Sereno should undergo impeachment, while de Vera says there was no more need for impeachment. 

De Vera subscribes to the high tribunal’s verdict that it had jurisdiction over the case, as Sereno failed to file her SALNs and was thus ineligible to be appointed chief justice, thereby invalidating her appointment in 2012. 

Meanwhile, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said Law students who express strong opposition against the SC decision to oust Sereno do not lose their right to become lawyers or take the Bar examination – a statement made in reaction to the call of anti-Sereno lawyer Ferdinand Topacio.

Topacio earlier urged his followers on Twitter to monitor those who would curse the high court in light of the quo warranto ruling, saying these students should be disqualified from taking the Bar examinations and that the profession should be protected from those who are unfit to practice law.

But the CHR disagreed, saying that “citizens should not be prevented from speaking up at a time when the crucial system of checks and balances in our democracy is in question.”

“Exercising our freedoms of expression and to peaceably assemble allows the common people to have their voices be heard. These are opportunities for the government to listen to our grievances and provide redress. Any threat to silence dissenters is an affront to our ideals as a nation,” the CHR said.

The rights body urged Filipinos to continue its fight in pursuit of fairness, righteousness and the prevalence of the rule of law. 

“We condemn these threats on the freedom of speech of the Filipino people. Dissent is a sign of a healthy democracy. Allowing the people to speak against injustices is how nations progress and rise above times of trial and hardship,” it stressed. – With Delon Porcalla, Janvic Mateo

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