Sereno to SC: Junk quo warranto because SALN allegation not valid

Lian Buan
Sereno to SC: Junk quo warranto because SALN allegation not valid
Chief Justice Sereno says she will be able to prove in the Senate that she complied with the SALN law

MANILA, Philippines – Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno submitted her comment to the Supreme Court (SC) on Monday, March 19, asking the en banc to junk the quo warranto petition against her.

A quo warranto petition is a legal remedy seeking to void an appointment.

In her 77-page comment, Sereno said the SC cannot base a quo warranto proceeding on the allegation that she did not submit Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) because it is not a valid ground. 

“Her alleged non-filing of UP SALNs with the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) was not included in the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon and she has not yet been given the opportunity to debunk these allegations,” Sereno’s lawyers said in a statement.

Sereno said she will be able to prove in the Senate that she complied with the SALN law.

Solicitor General Jose Calida initiated a quo warranto proceeding to remove Sereno from office saying her appointment to the post was void from the start, because her non-filing of her SALNs violated the constitutional requirement of integrity for the chief justice post.

The SC en banc is in possession of a letter Sereno sent to the JBC in 2012, saying she should be exempted from the requirement to submit all her SALNs because it’s difficult to find them. The en banc has asked Sereno to explain, on top of a quo warranto deliberation.

She supposedly did not file 17 of her 20 SALNs from the time when she was a professor at the University of the Philippines. The JBC told the House committee on justice that they applied a substantial compliance rule when Sereno applied to be chief justice.

“There is no authority for the judicial review of a purely political question, as the OSG cannot substitute its judgment for the discretion of the JBC to include a name in the shortlist for the position of Chief Justice, and certainly the OSG cannot overturn the then President’s decision to appoint her to that position,” Sereno said.

What are the other arguments? Sereno said the one-year prescriptive period to file a quo warranto proceeding has lapsed. She has been serving as chief justice for 5 years now.

“There is no authority to commence a quo warranto proceeding more than four years after the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations,” she said.

Sereno also added that a quo warranto removal will be violating the constitutional provision that members of the court shall be removed only by impeachment.

“To rule otherwise, and to preempt the impeachment process by summarily ousting the Chief Justice via quo warranto, would be tantamount to overthrowing the Constitution itself,” Sereno said.

What happens next? The en banc will take the comment into consideration, and decide how to move forward. Insiders say oral arguments are on the table of the en banc.

The en banc is deliberating this while Sereno is on indefinite leave.

Meanwhile, the House committee on justice has approved 6 articles of impeachment against Sereno.

The non-filing of SALN tops the articles, followed by alleged procurement violations in certain purchases and transactions under her leadership in the Supreme Court.

Why this matters. Any move by the en banc at this point will reframe interpretation of the rules. If they proceed with the quo warranto proceeding, it opens up a possibility of removing impeachable officials in this manner. Vice President Leni Robredo said this is a dangerous precedent even for President Rodrigo Duterte.

All eyes will be on the SC, too, as any decision they make now will be tainted by the public testimonies of justices against Sereno and the pressure they exerted on her to go on leave.

Certain groups in the judiciary are asking Sereno to resign, but she remains defiant and has continually called on the Senate trial to start as soon as possible. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.