Wednesday , June 20, 2018

Malilong: Time doesn’t run against the king

NOW they have thrown the kitchen sink at Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno. “They,” of course, refers to the Duterte administration, with House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and lately, Solicitor General Jose Calida, at the vanguard.

It was the Alvarez-led House that declared that the impeachment complaint filed against Sereno by lawyer and one-time KBL senatorial candidate Lorenzo Gadon sufficient in form and substance. Hearings were thereafter held to determine the existence of probable cause, in the course of which a number of SC justices were called – and appeared – to testify about Sereno.

About six months have passed since the hearings started but the House apparently still had to find sufficient evidence to establish that Sereno may have committed any of the impeachment offenses enumerated in the constitution. Otherwise, they would have already said so and posthaste transmitted the articles of impeachment to the Senate for trial.

And then just this week, Calida filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to dismiss their chief magistrate. The SolGen said Sereno failed to prove her integrity and he was “duty bound to address this anomaly.”

The petition is unprecedented, something that Calida himself admits but for an entirely different reason: that it involved “the highest position in the Judiciary.” In fact, it is unprecedented because his is the first attempt ever to remove an impeachable official through means other than impeachment.

Under the Rules of Court, quo warranto proceedings must be commenced within one year from the time the cause of the subject public official’s ouster arose but Calida said this rule does not apply to him as Solicitor General because “no time runs against the king.” Besides, he added, he came to know about the cause for Sereno’s disqualification only in December 2017 and the one-year period should be counted from that date. This time, he did not explain why the general rule should not apply to him.

Calida’s arguments are, to put it generously, novel and it is worth waiting how the Supreme Court would treat them. Will they dismiss the petition on the ground that it is constitutionally untenable or will they entertain it because of, in the words of Calida, its “transcendental importance”?

The House, in the meantime, would also want to wait for the Supreme Court decision before coming out with their own. That would be prudent, Alvarez and his deputy, Rodolfo Farinas said, as a Supreme Court invalidation of Sereno’s appointment would render the impeachment proceedings academic.

Usually, it is the first proceedings that moots the subsequent one. Besides, it is not the job of the House to try Sereno. That function belongs to the Senate. There is therefore nothing imprudent in elevating the impeachment case to the Upper Chamber and let the senators decide whether to go ahead with the trial or wait for the Supreme Court to resolve Calida’s petition.

I wonder if they’re just only trying to make Sereno’s life miserable.