It’s final: Sereno out

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star
It�s final: Sereno out
Ousted chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno addresses supporters gathered at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City yesterday.
Boy Santos

MANILA, Philippines — It’s final: the Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed its May 11 ruling ousting Maria Lourdes Sereno as chief justice on the basis of a mere quo warranto petition rather than impeachment.

The justices yesterday voted 8-6 – just as they did in the original ruling – to deny Sereno’s motion for reconsideration for lack of merit.

The high court stressed that the denial was final and “no further pleadings shall be entertained.”

It also directed the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to now start the search for the next chief justice.

Under the Constitution, the President should appoint Sereno’s replacement within 90 days from yesterday.

The majority – composed of Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza, Noel Tijam, Samuel Martires, Andres Reyes Jr. and Alexander Gesmundo – held that Sereno failed to raise new arguments in her 205-page motion for reconsideration filed on May 30.

The court stood firm in its finding that Sereno’s appointment in 2012 was invalid because she was not qualified for lack of proven integrity due to her failure to file all her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) when she was still teaching law in the University of the Philippines.

“In sum, respondent has not presented any convincing ground that would merit a modification or reversal of our May 11, 2018 decision. At the risk of being repetitive, respondent, at the time of her application, lacked proof of integrity on account of her failure to file a substantial number of SALNs and also, her failure to submit the required SALNs to the JBC during her application to the position,” read the 25-page resolution.

The SC rejected the argument of the ousted chief justice in her appeal that failure to file SALN cannot be considered a gauge of her integrity.

“Respondent’s argument dangerously disregards that the filing of SALN is not only a requirement under the law, but a positive duty required from every public officer or employee, first and foremost by the Constitution. The SALN laws were passed in aid of the enforcement of the Constitutional duty to submit a declaration under oath of one’s assets, liabilities and net worth,” it stressed.

“This positive Constitutional duty of filing one’s SALN is so sensitive and important that it even shares the same category as the Constitutional duty imposed upon public officers and employees to owe allegiance to the State and Constitution,” the SC added.

“As such, offenses against the SALN laws are not ordinary offenses but violations of a duty which every public officer and employee owes to the State and the Constitution. In other words, violation of SALN laws, by itself, defeats any claim of integrity as it is inherently immoral to violate the will of the legislature and to violate the Constitution,” the Court pointed out.

Admin case likely

The high tribunal also reiterated its ruling that Sereno may be removed via quo warranto since it is “separate and distinct from impeachment.”

Apart from ordering Sereno to vacate her post, the SC is also expected to initiate an administrative case against her for alleged violations of the Code of Professional Responsibility and Code of Judicial Conduct “for transgressing the sub judice rule and for casting aspersions and ill motives to the members of the Supreme Court.”

Apparently not satisfied with her answers as to why she attacked the justices in her media and public appearances, the Court is expected to initiate administrative proceedings that could possibly lead to her disbarment.

The six magistrates in the minority maintained their dissent and voted to grant the MR of Sereno. They were acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Mariano del Castillo, Estela Bernabe, Marvic Leonen and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa.     

Solicitor General Jose Calida immediately welcomed the final ruling of the court on his quo warranto case against Sereno.

“This is a triumph of justice. It shows no one is above the law. I’ve been vindicated by the Supreme Court in this ruling,” he told reporters in an ambush interview.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said the court has spoken and everybody should bow to the decision.

“What the President is asking now is for the Filipino people to be united. I think the decision of the Supreme Court is clear,” Roque said in a press briefing in Cotabato City yesterday. 

“The Palace knows that there are many who are against or do not agree with decision, but in our democracy, the Supreme Court is the final arbiter in terms of controversial legal (decisions),” the spokesman said.

“So like it or hate it, we have to succumb to the decision of the Supreme Court that is now final and executory. The time of Meilou Sereno as chief justice is over,” Roque added, referring to the former chief magistrate by her nickname.

“The President respects the decision, and he will enforce the decision. Because that is the job of the President as implementor of the law and the decision of the Supreme Court,” he said.

Roque advised Sereno to just accept the decision and return to private life. “We wish her good luck in her everyday life as a private citizen,” he said.

Although he belied singling out Sereno, Duterte had publicly expressed his displeasure with the ousted chief justice, who was appointed in 2012 by the previous Aquino administration to replace the impeached Renato Corona. – With Christina Mendez

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