Wrong move
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - March 9, 2018 - 12:00am

The Solicitor General appears to be inordinately construing and overly stretching the interpretation of our laws particularly the Rules of Court (Rule 66) when he filed a Petition for Quo Warranto against Chief Justice Sereno. Pursuant to Section 1 of said Rule, Quo Warranto is “an action for the usurpation of a public office, position or franchise brought in the name of the Republic of the Philippines against: (a) A person who usurps, intrudes into, or unlawfully holds or exercises a public office, position or franchise; (b) A  public officer who does or suffers an act which, by the provision of law, constitutes a ground for the forfeiture of his office; or (c) An association which acts as a corporation within the Philippines without being legally incorporated or without lawful authority so to act.”

Law dictionaries define Quo Warranto as “one of the prerogative writs (or command) issued by a superior court against a person who claims or usurps any office, franchise or liberty, to inquire by what authority he (she) supports his (her) claim.”

In filing the petition for quo warranto, the Solicitor General argues that Sereno “did not meet the specific qualification of proven integrity for the Chief Justice post with her failure to comply with required submission of the ten-year Statement of Assets and Liabilities (SALN). She did not show that she is a person of proven integrity, an indispensable qualification for membership in the Judiciary under Section 7 (3), Article VIII of the Constitution. He further contended that “a quo warranto petition challenges the legal basis of one’s appointment and seeks his (her) removal from office for lack of qualification or legal basis to continue holding said office.”

Obviously, there is a great disparity between the Solicitor General’s understanding of quo warranto and its true meaning. First of all, as provided by the Rules of Court, it is a remedy against a person who intrudes into or unlawfully holds or exercises a public office. It is not a remedy to question the qualification of a person to a particular government office or position. 

In the case of Sereno, she was duly nominated by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) and was chosen and appointed by the President from a list of at least three nominees prepared by the JBC

Indeed the JBC was mainly created to eliminate politics from the appointment of judges and justices. Thus their appointments do not have to go through and be approved by the Commission on Appointments, a political body composed of members of Congress. So it is clear and undisputed that Sereno has not intruded into or has usurped the office of the Chief Justice. Otherwise all the decisions of the Supreme Court during her stint as Chief Justice for almost six years may be considered as illegal or invalid.

Secondly, there seems to be no sense at all in the Solicitor General’s conclusion that Sereno’s failure to file the SALN for several years is proof that Sereno is not qualified for the position of Chief Justice. Neither does such failure out-rightly disqualifies her for the position of Chief Justice allegedly because she lacks integrity or that she is not really upright and honest. Lack of proven integrity is something more serious and malicious than mere failure to file the SALN. Indeed such failure can easily be remedied by the late filing of the SALN.

But even assuming that Sereno was not really qualified for the position, the action for Quo Warranto should have been filed within one year after the cause of her ouster arose, which at the very latest, one year after her appointment as Chief Justice when she supposedly assumed and usurped said position without the necessary qualification. In this case, the action for Quo Warranto was filed only last Monday, March 5, 2018 or after about six years from the time the cause for her ouster arose when she was appointed by the President and assumed office or allegedly usurped the position of Chief Justice. This is pursuant to the Rules of Court (Rule 66, Section 11), which provides that the action against a public officer for his (her) ouster from office should be filed within one year after the cause of such ouster arose.

Thus, it is quite apparent that the action for Quo Warranto is a wrong and desperate move taken as a fall-back action in case the impeachment case now pending in the Lower House. Indeed, the only means of removing Sereno as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is through impeachment. This is clearly provided in Section 2 of Article XI of the Constitution which says that, “The President, the Vice President, the Members of the Supreme Court, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, (particularly the Civil Service Commission, the Commission on Elections and the Commission on Audit) and the Ombudsman may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, Treason, Bribery, Graft and Corruption, other high crimes or betrayal of public trust.”

They can be removed only by through the process of impeachment initiated in the Lower House upon a verified complaint of any Congressman (Congresswoman) or any citizen, and approved for filing and trial in the Senate by a vote of at least one third of all the members. Then the Senate shall try and decide the case with the concurrence of two-thirds of all the members. (Section 3 Article XI, Constitution)

The impeachment complaint is initiated, tried in and decided by Congress because it is a political process involving a political question actually decided by the people through their representative in the Upper and Lower House. As held in Tanada vs Cuenco (G.R. 38178, October 3, 1985), “political question refers to those questions which under the Constitution, are to be decided by the people in their sovereign capacity. It is concerned with issues dependent upon the wisdom not the legality of a particular measure”. Where the vortex of the controversy refers to legality or validity of the contested act, the matter is definitely judicial or non-political” (Sanidad vs. Comelec (G.R. 68828, March 27, 1985). So it is not Quo Warranto but Impeachment which is the proper remedy in this case because the controversy involves a political, not a legal question.

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Email: attyjosesison@gmail.com

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