The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld with finality its May 11 decision to oust Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno as the top magistrate.
Voting 8-6, the SC denied Sereno’s motion for reconsideration seeking her reinstatement for lack of merit.
The Court ruled that the denial of Sereno’s appeal was final and that “no further pleadings shall be entertained” as it ordered entry of judgment in the case.
With the ruling, the 15-member bench ordered the Judicial and Bar Council to now start the search for the next chief justice. Under the Constitution, the President would have to appoint Sereno’s replacement within 90 days from June 19.
The eight magistrates who voted to sustain the May 11 decision were Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza, Noel Tijam, Samuel Martires, Andres Reyes Jr. and Alexander Gesmundo.
The majority bloc held that Sereno failed to raise new arguments in her 205-page motion filed May 30.
The Court also affirmed its finding that Sereno’s appointment in 2012 was invalid because she was not qualified for lack of proven integrity due to her failure to file all her Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth when she was still teaching law in the University of the Philippines.
“In sum, respondent has not presented any convincing ground that would merit a modification or reversal of our May 11, 2018 decision. At the risk of being repetitive, respondent, at the time of her application, lacked proof of integrity on account of her failure to file a substantial number of SALNs and also, her failure to submit the required SALNs to the JBC during her application to the position,” read the 25-page resolution written by Tijam.
The Court disagreed with the argument of the ousted chief justice in her appeal that failure to file of SALN cannot be considered as gauge of her integrity.
“Respondent’s argument dangerously disregards that the filing of SALN is not only a requirement under the law, but a positive duty required from every public officer or employee, first and foremost by the Constitution. The SALN laws were passed in aid of the enforcement of the constitutional duty to submit a declaration under oath of one’s assets, liabilities and net worth,” the ruling said.
“This positive constitutional duty of filing one’s SALN is so sensitive and important that it even shares the same category as the constitutional duty imposed upon public officers and employees to owe allegiance to the State and Constitution. As such, offenses against the SALN laws are not ordinary offenses but violations of a duty which every public officer and employee owes to the State and the Constitution. In other words, violation of SALN laws, by itself, defeats any claim of integrity as it is inherently immoral to violate the will of the legislature and the to violate the Constitution,” the Court said.
The Court also reiterated its ruling that Sereno may be removed through quo warranto proceedings since it is “separate and distinct from impeachment.”
Aside from ordering Sereno to vacate her post, the Court also initiated an administrative case against her for alleged violations of the Code of Professional Responsibility and Code of Judicial Conduct “for transgressing the sub judice rule and for casting aspersions and ill motives on the members of the Supreme Court.”
Apparently not satisfied with her answers as to why she attacked the justices in her media and public appearances, the Court initiated the administrative proceedings that could lead to her disbarment.
Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Mariano Del Castillo, Estela Bernabe, Marvic Leonen and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa voted to grant Sereno’s motion for reconsideration.
Sereno vowed to defend the Constitution and rule of law despite the Supreme Court’s decision upholding her removal from office.
“I stand before you now stripped of my authority and position. I do not have to be chief justice to defend our laws and Constitution. I live the law as do all Filipinos who uphold the dignity of every fellow Filipino,” Sereno said at an event in Quezon City. “We will continue to live the law and fight for our democracy and the institutions to safeguard it.”
At the same occasion, she scored President Rodrigo Duterte for his alleged complete disregard of the Constitution and the rule of law.
“The responsibility for the weakening of the rule of law is his. He has admitted that sowing intrigue and planting evidence have been part of his practice,” Sereno said.
Sereno also said the House of Representatives had threatened to hold the judiciary budget hostage to the demands of the impeachment complainant, lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, that the Supreme Court turn over all the documents he required to bolster his case against her.
She said Court spokesman Theodore Te revealed to her that Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, House majority leader, had told Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta that Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez “had ordered the suspension of the deliberations of the budget of the judiciary unless all the documents that the complainant requested from the Supreme Court would be released.”
“The message was clear. The House leadership was going to hold hostage the judiciary’s budget unless the Supreme Court cooperated fully with its plan to remove me,” she said.
Sereno said she was unfazed by her removal.
“My ouster is a call to action for all of us,” she told her supporters. “This woman does not back away from a fight.”
A Palace spokesman said President Duterte respected the decision of the Supreme Court to uphold Sereno’s ouster.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque also urged the public to respect the ruling as final and executory.
“So like it or hate it, we have to succumb to the decision of the Supreme Court. That is now a final and executory decision,” Roque said in press briefing in Cotabato City.
He said the President will implement the order since it is the duty of the President to enforce laws and the decisions of the Supreme Court.
The Palace official also asked Filipinos to unite following the ruling.
“It’s the end for Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno. We wish her good luck in her everyday life as a private citizen,” Roque added.
But Vice President Leni Robredo, from the opposition, called on the Filipino people to “fight for democracy” after a “dark moment” for the country.
She appealed to the public to stay vigilant in the face of “impending assaults” on the 1987 Constitution and freedom.
“We must commit ourselves to defend what remains of our democracy, and to rebuild what has been cast down,” she said.
Liberal Party secretary general Erin Tañada said he was not expecting anything different from the Supreme Court.
“Their first decision showed that they were willing to destroy the institution and violate our Constitution,” Tañada said, adding that the Supreme Court was now “beyond redemption.”
Another member of the opposition, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, said Duterte succeeded in destroying another bulwark of the country’s fragile democracy, the Supreme Court.
“Now, only half of the Senate stands in his way from completely installing his ruthless and corrupt authoritarian regime,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said his colleagues may no longer push for the adoption of the Senate resolution calling for the Supreme Court to review its decision.
“As a practical matter, the majority in the Senate can assert that the issue is now academic and would, therefore, be reluctant to debate on the quo warranto resolution. As for me, it’s already futile although personally I still believe that there is nothing wrong with expressing an opinion on the decision of the SC, the majority may feel that we can express our individual beliefs on the quo warranto but not the Senate as an institution,” he said.
Senator JV Ejercito said that while he believed impeachment is the only way to remove a chief justice, the Senate should not pursue its resolution.
“[We] cannot correct a mistake with another mistake. Rather than interfere with the affairs of the judiciary, we are duty-bound to respect its decision,” he said.
He expressed hope that in the future, the SC can revisit this 8-6 ruling and rectify the decision, which effectively encroached upon the prerogative of the legislative department.
“In the meantime, it is my hope that the next chief justice will start the process of internal healing and begin restoring the public’s faith in our Supreme Court, which has been severely undermined by this sad episode in our history,” he said.
In the House, pro-administration lawmakers led by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez hailed the Supreme Court ruling.
Opposition lawmakers, however, said they would file impeachment complaints against the eight Supreme Court justices who voted for the quo warranto petition against Sereno.
“The Supreme Court has spoken. It has affirmed its ruling on the quo warranto petition declaring as void the appointment of former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno,” Alvarez said.
“The Constitution mandates the Supreme Court to be the final arbiter of legal and constitutional questions. Let us respect its decision, no matter what our persuasions are,” he said.
Alvarez added that the SC ruling has also rendered moot the impeachment proceedings against Sereno at the House of Representatives.
“As a consequence, we would now have to consign such proceedings to our archives,” Alvarez said.
Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, chairman of the House committee on justice, said the ruling was expected.
Reps. Tom Villarin of Akbayan and Gary Alejano of Magdalo Party-list said the eight justices who voted for the quo warranto committed an impeachable act.
Gadon, who had filed the impeachment complaint against Sereno, slammed former President Benigno Aquino III, saying he abused his power by appointing her to the post.
In 2011, Aquino could have chosen other nominees “who were a hundredfold more qualified than Sereno in all aspects.”
“Sereno is a closed chapter in the history of the judiciary,” Gadon said.
“It is grossly unfair and misleading for Sereno to keep on using President Duterte as a face-saving excuse for her removal as chief justice,” he added. With Vito Barcelo and Rio N. Araja
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