THE impeachment complaint against on-leave Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has stirred a national controversy. It has not relented and the controversy continues to polarize Philippine society, notably the legal profession, the Judiciary and not surprisingly the political landscape. Indeed, with the current gender-inspired anti-discrimination offensive, the distaff side took cudgel for the beleaguered female magistrates who believe that the now double-bladed mode to get rid of Justice Sereno constitutes a blatant act of discrimination against women, particularly against peers who occupy key positions in constitutional bodies.
Apparently, aside from the impeachment complaint, this mouthpiece of women’s group is referring to the filing belatedly of quo warranto petition against CJ Sereno. And accordingly, the perceived discrimination springs from no less than two pertinent clearly and unmistakably worded constitutional provisions, namely: Article XI, Sec. 2 and VIII, Sec. 5 (1).
Firstly, as pointed out earlier, Article XI, Sec. 2, provides that “That President, 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… or betrayal of public trust. All other public officers and employees may be removed from office as may be provided by law, but not by impeachment. Secondly, Article VIII, Sec. 5 (1) states that the Supreme Court shall “exercise original jurisdiction over cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and over petitions for certiorari, prohibition, mandamus, quo warranto and habeas corpus” (italics supplied).
The first particularizes the class of public officers who are removable only and but only after going through the wringer of impeachment and only upon conviction thereof. That “No person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of all the members of the Senate” who shall act as impeachment judges.
The second, enunciates the category of public functionaries complaints against whom fall within the original jurisdiction of the High Court, including the extra-ordinary legal remedy of quo warranto that seeks the ouster of public officers mentioned under Article VIII, Sec. 5 (1) which clearly excludes impeachable officers, such as, Justices of the Supreme Court, enumerated under Article XI, Sec. 2. Otherwise, the President and the other impeachable public officials may likewise be the subject of the Writ of Quo Warranto as now being brought to bear against Chief Justice Sereno. Thus, making Article XI, Sec. 2, a redundancy to say the least.
In passing, an impeachment has been rightly denominated as a “national inquest into the conduct of public men. It is essentially in the nature of a criminal prosecution before a quasi-political court, instituted by a written accusation called articles of impeachment, upon a charge of the commission of a crime or some official misconduct or neglect. The trial that follows may or may not result in a conviction”. Thus, as a People’s Court, the inquisitors must be clothed with sovereign authority. Surely, the impeachment judges are blessed with such power having been duly mandated by the electorate.
In fairness and having that essential nature of impeachment in mind and in deference to the sacrosanct demands of justice, the women’s advocate group does not prejudge the innocence of Chief Justice Sereno. It only prays that the highest magistrate of the Supreme Court be tried before a constitutionally—mandated court, face her accusers and the Senator-Judges. Just like the treatment accorded the late Chief Justice Renato Corona. This will go a long way to dispel the feeling of gender discrimination.