MANILA Militant lawmakers and a group of concerned citizens on Thursday filed a petition before the Supreme Court (SC) seeking to intervene on the quo warranto petition filed by the Office of Solicitor General (OSG) seeking to nullify the appointment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
The Makabayan bloc consisting of party-list lawmakers led by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate and a group of private individuals led by running protest Fr. Robert Reyes trooped to the high court and filed separate petitions for intervention asking the High Court to dismiss the quo warranto case against Sereno.
In a 28-page opposition-in-intervention petition, the bloc asked the SC to dismiss the petition as "it intentionally derails the ongoing impeachment process in Congress, and it attempts to wrest the constitutional power away from the Congress."
Zarate, together with Antonio Tinio and Francisca Castro (ACT Teachers), Emmi De Jesus and Arlene Brosas (Gabriela), Ariel Casilao (Anakpawis) and Sarah Jane Elago (Kabataan) who signed as petitioners said that Sereno, as sitting Chief Justice, could only be removed from her office through impeachment.
The removal of such impeachable public official by means other than impeachment runs afoul to the constitution and, in the case of a member of the SC, the fundamental principles of judicial independence and separation of powers," read the petition
"As it is, the quo warranto case is wrong and unconstitutional because it robs the Filipino people the means to properly hear and judge the side of CJ Sereno through a trial at the Senate seating as an impeachment Court. As representatives of the people, we will not allow this legal short cut to take that power away from the people and at the same time undermine the judiciary as an institution by letting CJ Sereno's peers to oust her," Zarate explained.
Also named petitioners were Francisco Alcuaz, Bonifacio Ilagan, Ret. Col. George Rabusa, former Sen. Rene Saguisag, Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Renato Reyes Jr., Kaye Ann Legaspi and Ephraim Cortez.
For their part, Reyes and Noland Pernas, a farmer leader, also filed a similar petition for intervention that raised the same arguments.
The group explained that impeachment is the only possible course of action prescribed by the 1987 Constitution that can be undertaken to unseat an impeachable officer like the Chief Justice."
Citing Article 11, Section 2 of the Constitution, the group said the Chief Justice is among those mentioned in the said provision who can be removed by impeachment. Aside from the Chief Justice, other officials that can only be removed by impeachment include the President, the Vice-President, Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman.
They explained that Sereno's appointment is valid considering the process that she went through including the screening of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), being shortlisted by the JBC and the President decision to appoint her.
Any other charges, such as the incomplete submission of Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth or SALN and her psychological tests can be best explained in the course of a full-blown impeachment trial now at the doorsteps of the Senate, read their petition.
The group added that the quo warranto filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida against Sereno is also time-barred explaining that under the Rules of Court, a quo warranto can only be initiated within one year from the time that the public officer has assumed office.
The one-year period is designed to provide some stability in the discharge of public duties and the Chief Justice has been with the high court for more than four years. The use of quo warranto to unseat a public officer who has been functioning for a long time would certainly disrupt public service, the group said.
Aside from Fr. Reyes, other petitioners include farmer leader Noland Penas, Mel Alonzo, former chief executive officer of the Pag Ibig Fund; Rey Anne Librado, a masteral student at the University of the Philippines; Alice Gentolia Murphy, urban poor advocate and Mardi Suplido, a peace and human rights advocates. They are represented by Atty. Ibarra Gutierrez, former Akbayan Representative.
Meanwhile, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) is set to file on Friday a similar intervention petition in the SC.
In a statement, the IBP said its board of governors decided last Wednesday to intervene in the case in line with its duty "to uphold the Constitution, advocate for the rule of law and safeguard the administration of justice."
The IBP agreed that Sereno could only be removed through impeachment proceedings in Congress and cannot be covered by quo warranto petition.
"Under the Constitution, impeachment is the only mode of removal of an impeachable officer for an impeachable offense... Under the Constitution, the members of the Supreme Court may not be ordered dismissed by any government authority other than by the Senate after an impeachment proceeding," IBP said.
"Entertaining the quo warranto petition on account of the Chief Justice's supposed lack of integrity is tantamount to subjecting her to the disciplinary authority of the Supreme Court," added the mandatory organization of lawyers in the country.
A quo warranto proceeding is initiated to remove an unqualified official from his or her position as stated under Rule 66 of the Rules of Court.
In a 34-page petition for quo warranto, Solictor General Jose Calida seeks SC to declare Sereno's appointment on Aug. 24, 2012 as Chief Justice as void and oust her from the judiciary's top post.
The petition emanated from a letter filed by suspended lawyer Eligio Mallari, urging Calida to initiate a quo warranto proceeding against the top magistrate.
Last Feb. 21, Mallari, who called Sereno a "de facto chief justice", asked the OSG to initiate a quo warranto proceeding against her.
Under Rule 66 of the Rules of Court, a quo warranto proceeding is an action by the government against a person who unlawfully holds a public office or holds a position where he or she is not qualified.
Calida insisted that a quo warranto proceeding is a "proper remedy to question the validity of Sereno's appointment."
Source: Philippine News Agency