Canlas: The impeachment judges and CJ Sereno

THAT advertisement published in the March 26, 2018, issue of the Philippine Daily Star cited two modes of removing from office magistrates of the Supreme Court. There are supporting citations.

Firstly quoted is Section 5 (1) of Article VIII of the Constitution reproduced here, as follows: The Supreme Court shall ‘Exercise original jurisdiction over cases affecting ambassadors, other public minister and consuls, and over petitions for certiorari, prohibition, mandamus, quo warranto and habeas corpus. The afore-quoted constitutional provision consists of two scenarios, the first of which clearly specifies the class of public officers actionable wrong against whom falls within the original jurisdiction of the High Court. The particular enumeration of parties therein is significant in the light of the doctrine of exclusivity, which simply means that those not included, for evil or for good, are excluded. The second part pertains to the so-called High Prerogative Writs among which is the Petition For Quo Warranto which seeks to oust a public officer on the ground that the holder is bereft of any right thereto abinitio. This is significant in the light of the position of a justice of the Supreme Court. Admittedly, the published position paper is in support of a pending Verified Petition for Quo Warranto filed against now on-leave Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

At the outset, “Quo Warranto is a Writ ordering a person to show by what right he (she) exercises an office, franchise or privilege.” In the case at bar, since the incumbent justices of the Supreme Court, no less, will decide on the merit of the allegation that the appointment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno is “VOID” from the beginning, a favorable resolution thereof would appear imprudent to say the least. The fact is that the Judicial and Bar Council, which is under the supervision of the Supreme Court, under the chairmanship-ex officio, of the chief justice had earlier confirmed the fitness of the then Justice Sereno to the position of Chief Justice. Thus, an adverse judgment on the pending Quo Warranto Petition against Chief Justice Sereno might be perceived as a ridiculous contradiction. As the saying goes: You don’t cook your cake and eat it too.

Moreover, any resolution upholding the Quo Warranto Petition would be viewed as tainted with bias considering that many of our good Magistrates have appeared as resource persons before the House Committee on Justice and in the process giving unfriendly testimonies on the current impeachment initiatives against Chief Justice Sereno. Surely, it is not the intention of the framers of the 1987 Constitution to put our Justices in such unlikely situation. That is to say: to disown a colleague whose hands they had earlier raised in affirmation of her moral uprightness and intellectual competence to assume the position of Chief Justice. Having said that it must be made clear that there is absolutely no intent here to cast impropriety or ill motive on the appearance of our Supreme Court Justices before the said House Committee on Justice. That’s their judgment call.

Secondly quoted is Article XI, Sec.2 which states: “The President, the Vice-President, the members of the Supreme Court, the members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman may be removed from office, on impeachment for and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason,…,” etc. All other public officers and employees may be removed from office as provided by the law, but not by impeachment. Again, aforecited constitutional provision single out the class of public functionaries, which includes the justices of the Supreme Court, who may be removed from office exclusively through the medium of impeachment. All other public servants may be removed from office as maybe provided by law, including the remedial relief of Quo Warranto, but not by impeachment.

Indubitably, then, the constitution points to only one mode of dethroning a reigning Chief Justice. And that mode is impeachment. Thus, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno must be given her day before the impeachment court and not elsewhere. So far, the honorable members of the Philippine Senate who will sit as judges in impeachment trial have exhibited dignified neutrality which is the heart and soul of a social order based on the rule of law and the Majesty of the Constitution.
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