Screen grab shows ousted chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno appearing the other night on the talk show The Chiefs, part of the lineup of programs on Cignal TV’s One News channel.
Sereno appeals ouster from Supreme Court
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - May 31, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Ousted chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno yesterday appealed the Supreme Court decision removing her through a mere quo warranto petition, noting that the SC violated her constitutional right to due process and overstepped its power.

In a 205-page motion filed minutes before the deadline, the ousted chief magistrate asked the SC to reconsider its ruling on May 11 that abruptly ended her unprecedented 18-year term by granting the quo warranto petition of the solicitor general to invalidate her appointment in 2012.

Sereno likewise urged the court to reverse the decision of six associate justices she accused of bias against her – Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza, Noel Tijam and Samuel Martires – not to inhibit from the case.

“More than its numerous legal and factual errors, the decision proves that in meting out justice, an impartial tribunal is crucial and indispensable. The decision illustrates vividly the dire and far-reaching consequences of a denial of due process,” she argued.

Sereno insisted that the SC has no authority to remove her from office because under the Constitution, the chief justice can be ousted only through an impeachment process.

“The indisputable intent of the Constitution is that impeachable officers, save for the President and Vice President, can be removed from office only by impeachment,” read the motion.

She reiterated that the issue on her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) cannot be the basis for adjudging her supposed lack of integrity and dishonesty.

“This Honorable Court erred in ruling that the Respondent ‘chronically failed to file her SALNs...’ The filing per se of a SALN neither proves nor negates a person’s integrity,” she argued.

Sereno likewise insisted that the quo warranto petition should not have been granted because it already went beyond the one-year prescription period from appointment.

The ousted SC chief added the decision made baseless conclusions that are unsupported by the evidence, such as her alleged tax fraud when there was no evidence to support it.

“The matters that were never raised by either party are actually mere allegations or charges raised in the impeachment complaint before the House of Representatives, all of which have yet to be proven. Since the allegations stated therein are nothing more than mere charges, they cannot be taken as evidence against the Chief Justice,” she stressed.

Sereno also told The Chiefs in an interview aired Tuesday night on Cignal TV’s One News that her ordeal continues after her ouster as the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) has launched an investigation against her, which she said is “illegal” and part of “persecution” by the Duterte administration.

She said the six justices should have been required by the Court to inhibit from the case due to actual biases.

“The justices’ testimonies and actuations in the hearings before the House committee on justice (and in the oral argument, in the case of Justice Martires) are clear and convincing evidence of actual bias,” Sereno explained.

“The justices’ statements, and the emotional implications that are attached to the same, are evidence of actual bias. Actual bias is anchored not simply on their participation in the proceedings, but rather, on the substance of their statements,” she added.

The SC voted 8-6 to declare the chief justice position vacant and ordered the Judicial and Bar Council to start the search for Sereno’s replacement.

Apart from Sereno’s ouster, the SC also issued a show cause order requiring her to show why she should not be penalized for supposedly violating the Code of Professional Responsibility and the Code of Judicial Conduct “for transgressing the sub judice rule and for casting aspersions and ill motives to the members of the Supreme Court.”

Those in the majority were Associate Justices De Castro, Peralta, Bersamin, Jardeleza, Tijam, Martires, Andres Reyes Jr. and Alexander Gesmundo.

Senior Associate Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Mariano del Castillo, Estela Bernabe, Marvic Leonen and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa dissented from the ruling.

Tax probe

Sereno likewise revealed that the tax bureau has started looking into her tax records, sent her letters demanding that she surrender her books of account and conducted preliminary conference the other day.

“This is a clear message to everybody – you don’t mess with this administration because we will file charges against you, we will have tax audit and you will have all these kind of difficulties,” Sereno told The Chiefs.

She said the BIR probe is illegal because she was being asked to submit her records from as early as 2004, which supposedly could no longer be investigated.

“The prescriptive period (for whatever possible tax evasion committed 14 years ago) has already lapsed. It’s really unjust; it’s illegal,” the ousted chief justice stressed.

Sereno believed that the BIR probe is part of harassment against her by the administration of President Duterte, whom she has publicly criticized and accused of being behind her ouster from the top judicial post.

She claimed she has paid her taxes correctly and also has not hidden any wealth.

“My house is sitting on a 205-square-meter property. Of the vehicles I own, the most expensive is a P900,000 Innova. You’ve seen my clothes and jewelry. Nothing in my life is hidden,” she pointed out.

“Many people commented on my way of living – it’s very modest. So this is not a lifestyle check; it’s persecution,” she alleged.

The ousted chief justice also revealed for the first time that she was asked by an emissary as early as July or August last year to resign from her post.

“It would be politically smart, according to them, and it would have spared me of difficulties, pain and persecution. But I said if a public official who is ready to face her accusers will just resign and give up, then nothing will be left of our institutions,” she said.

In the same interview, Sereno welcomed the recent Senate resolution signed by 14 senators calling for review of the SC ruling that granted the quo warranto petition of the solicitor general and invalidated the appointment of the chief justice in 2012.

“That was a very pleasant surprise... I was very pleased that they are fighting for their constitutional role of being the sole impeachment court,” she commented.

Sereno said newly elected Senate President Vicente Sotto III should not ignore the resolution and prove himself a leader by listening to the 14 senators.

She said the Senate resolution gives her hope of pursuing her fight for rule of law and protection of democracy against abuses by those in power.

Sereno revealed that she has been meeting supporters from all walks of life in her speaking events, especially the youth, who shared their sentiments against the administration on issues involving extrajudicial killings, closure of Boracay island and the policy towards China.

“I tell them we have to fight to defend democracy and have an independent judiciary,” she stressed.

The ousted SC chief believed that the justice system is “in ICU (intensive care unit) stage” and the Constitution is in danger because the President does not respect it.

MARIA LOURDES SERENO QUO WARRANTO SUPREME COURT
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