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Sunday, September 22, 2019

Editorial: Summoning the Chief Justice

ON April 10, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno will appear before the Supreme Court (SC) en banc to answer the petition that asked all the other justices to void her appointment.

That sounds grueling, like a performance appraisal taken to extremes, so it’s a wonder that Solicitor General Jose Calida, who had filed last month the quo warranto petition that questioned Chief Justice Sereno’s appointment, called his move “an act of kindness.”

Whatever Calida’s motives, he has asked the Court to do something unprecedented: to undo a chief justice’s appointment long after the one-year period for its review had lapsed. Why would the government’s top lawyer do this, knowing that Sereno is inevitably headed for an impeachment trial in the Senate anyway? Has he no confidence in the case built, over a period of more than half a year, by some members of the House of Representatives?

Their methods may differ, but there’s something that Solicitor General Calida and Rep. Reynaldo Umali of the House justice committee seem to have in common. Umali has repeatedly (and correctly) pointed out that the impeachment proceedings against the chief justice were simply part of what the Constitution asks and empowers Congress to do. Calida has taken a different tack. His view now seems to be that the chief justice’s appointment in 2012 wasn’t valid to begin with, so the SC should invalidate it.

Differences within the Court have been made public as a result of this controversy; 13 of the 14 other justices had voted to ask the chief justice to go on an indefinite leave, starting last month. How this eventually affects the Court and the delivery of justice is anyone’s guess. Yet it would be naïve to think that these divisions won’t play a part in next week’s proceedings.

The annual tradition of holding the summer session in Baguio is supposed to give the SC a breather from the capital region’s heat. That’s not likely to be the case this year, given what the justices have to deliberate on.

We hope the Court will continue to be as transparent as it has been throughout this whole affair. Yet even if it is, it won’t change the view that a trial in the Senate remains the best venue for this whole controversy to get resolved. It has the added advantage of being exactly the type of proceeding the Constitution provides for the removal of impeachable officials. Attempts to sway the chief justice into resigning, supposedly to spare the Court from prolonged division, remain suspect.
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