SC orders Sereno to comment on SolGen quo warranto petition

MANILA The Supreme Court (SC) ordered Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to comment on the quo warranto petition filed by the Office of Solicitor General (OSG) seeking to nullify her appointment to the judiciary's top post.

SC spokesman Theodore Te, in a briefing, announced the directive was issued following Tuesday's regular en banc session of the magistrates.

Te said the magistrates gave respondent Sereno a period of 10 days to submit her comments on the petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida.

The Court, without giving due course to the petition, required respondent Chief Justice Sereno to submit her comment on the petition (for Quo Warranto) within a period of 10 days from receipt of notice, Te said during the press conference.

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, in his dissenting opinion, said the petition should be dismissed outright.

In a 34-page petition for quo warranto, 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."

Petition for Quo Warranto at the Supreme Court where you will be judged by your peers who know you and the Constitution better, Calida said in a press conference on Monday.

Sereno's camp has earlier dismissed Mallari's petition, insisting that an impeachment is the only way to oust the chief magistrate.

But the Solicitor General argued that an impeachment proceeding is different from a quo warranto proceeding.

Your lawyer-spokespersons argued before media that there is only one option to oust an impeachable officer and that is through impeachment. They are horribly wrong. A lawyer who has a basic grasp of our Constitution and jurisprudence ought to know that Impeachment and Quo Warranto are two entirely different proceedings with entirely different grounds for filing, he explained.

Calida also said that constitutional basis for ousting Sereno from her office are the following:

Section 5 (1), Article VIII of the Constitution empowers the Supreme Court to exercise original jurisdiction over Quo Warranto cases, among others.

Section 7 (3) Article VIII of the Constitution insists that a Member of the Judiciary must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence. Unfortunately for respondent Sereno she flunked the test of integrity when she failed to file more or less 10 SALNs.

Section 17, Article XI (Accountability of Public Officers) requires the submission of SALNs as often as maybe required by law (RA 3109). The blatant disregard by respondent Sereno to comply with the requirements of the law and Constitution proves her lack of integrity hence she is unlawfully holding the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Calida also said that his filing of a quo warranto proceeding against Sereno is "an act of kindness."

I don't expect you to appreciate this but believe me, this is an act of kindness to a fellow lawyer, he said.

"The Office of the Solicitor General will not allow you to undergo the indignity that the late Chief Justice Renato Corona suffered at the hands of politicians who unjustly convicted him. You do not deserve that," Calida said.

Sereno will also be given a chance to answer the allegations against her, Calida added.

Meanwhile, lawyer Josa Deinla, one of Sereno's spokespersons, echoed Leonen's opinion.

"If true, we agree with the position of Justice Leonen. The petition should have been dismissed outright and should not be allowed to circumvent the constitutional mandate that a sitting Chief Justice can only be removed by impeachment," Deinla said in a statement.

Sereno's camp earlier urged the SC to dismiss the quo warranto petition, noting that it has no legal basis.

The Supreme Court ought not to entertain the quo warranto petition for it has absolutely no basis in law and in the Constitution. The high tribunal should dismiss the petition outright on the basis that quo warranto is not a proper remedy. Under the 1987 Constitution, the Chief Justice may only be removed from office upon impeachment by the House of Representatives and conviction by the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, Sereno said in a statement sent to reporters covering Supreme Court.

We wish to reiterate that this latest action by the Solicitor General is part and parcel of the grand plan to harass, malign and humiliate the Chief Justice to force her to resign because her detractors know that the impeachment case, which was built on lies, won't stand a chance in the Senate, read the statement.

Sereno also called the OSG's move a 'cruel act' towards the Filipino people, stressing that she is ready to face trial and disprove all allegations against her before the Senate, which is the only body or institution that can remove her from office via two-thirds vote of all its members.

The top magistrate is facing an impeachment trial for alleged culpable violation of the Constitution, corruption, other high crimes and betrayal of public trust.

The House of Representatives justice panel is set to vote on whether the complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon has probable cause to oust Sereno on March 8.

Asked if he will ask for a halt order on the proceeding at the House of Representatives, Calida insisted that the quo warranto proceeding is different from the impeachment.

"They can proceed with their impeachment. Insofar as we are concerned, proper remedy is quo warranto," Calida told reporters.

Sereno, who is currently on indefinite leave, earlier said her leave is meant for her to prepare her legal defense in her impeachment case, which is expected to reach the Senate anytime soon.

The 13 justices said that they reached a consensus on an en banc session last Feb. 27 that Sereno should take an indefinite leave.

The impeachment complaint was filed by lawyer Larry Gadon who claimed that Sereno did not declare in her SALN the exorbitant lawyer's fees of USD745,000 (PHP37 million) which she received from the Philippine government.

The impeachment complainant said the issue of SALN declaration is the strongest case presented against Sereno.

The complaint also alleged that Sereno committed corruption when she, among other things, used public funds to finance her extravagant and lavish lifestyle by ordering the purchase of a brand-new luxurious Toyota Land Cruiser 2017 model as her personal vehicle, amounting to more than PHP5 million; and stay in opulent hotels when attending conferences in the country and abroad.

Source: Philippine News Agency