IBP ‘implores’ Supreme Court to reverse Sereno ouster

Lian Buan
'With due respect, the Honorable Court's narrowly drawn ruling shows the use of the law to pursue a desired result, that is, the ouster of the Chief Justice,' says the Integrated Bar of the Philippines

APPEAL. The Integrated Bar of the Philippines acts as intervenors and files a motion for reconsideration at the Supreme Court to reverse the ouster of former chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

MANILA, Philippines – The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) filed on Monday, June 11, a motion for reconsideration to “implore” the Supreme Court (SC) to reverse the ouster of Maria Lourdes Sereno and restore stability in the rule of law.

Acting as intervenors, the IBP used past SC rulings to argue that impeachment is the only way to remove Sereno as chief justice, and that the quo warranto ouster “eroded, if not demolished, the Rule of Law for which all members of the Bar are sworn to uphold.”

“With due respect, the Honorable Court’s narrowly drawn ruling shows the use of the law to pursue a desired result, that is, the ouster of the Chief Justice,” the IBP said.

It added, “The Rule of Law cannot survive in a legal system whereby the ‘law’ changes like sand dunes at the whim of desert winds.” (READ: EXPLAINER: How SC majority tried to close all doors for ousted Sereno)

Here are the IBP’s arguments point by point.

1. The Court cannot overstep the JBC

The IBP said that when the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) shortlisted Sereno as candidate for chief justice, it made “conclusive determinations” that Sereno had all the constitutional requirements, including integrity.

Sereno was ousted through quo warranto proceedings, which found that her alleged non-filing and non-submission of Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALNs) meant she never passed the integrity requirement, and was never qualified to hold the post.

The IBP quoted Supreme Court in Villanueva vs JBC: “Hence, unless there are good and compelling reasons to do so, the Court will refrain from interfering with the exercise of JBC’s powers, and will respect the initiative and independence inherent in the latter.”

The IBP said the JBC was constitutionally protected not to be interfered with.

In ousting Sereno, the Supreme Court cited Jardeleza vs Sereno in saying that the Court has authority to exercise supervision over the JBC.

But the IBP reminded the Court that in Jardeleza vs Sereno, they also ruled that JBC proceedings are sui generis or a class of its own.

“(It) explains the rationale for the creation of a Constitutional body imbued with the discretion to determine a candidate’s possession of Constitutional requirements,” the IBP said.

2. Impeachment is the only way to remove Sereno

The IBP reminded the Court that in Cuenco vs Fernan, a disbarment case against an impeachable official, it had said: “To grant a complaint for disbarment of a Member of the Court during the Member’s incumbency, would in effect be to circumvent and hence to ran afoul of the constitutional mandate that Members of the Court may be removed from office only by impeachment for and conviction of certain offenses listed in Article XI (2) of the Constitution.”

The IBP also recalled how in 2009, the Supreme Court refused to act on an electoral petition, saying that it didn’t want to intrude in the powers of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET). 

“Guided by this basic principle, the Court will neither assume a power that belongs exclusively to the HRET nor substitute its own judgment for that of the Tribunal,” the SC said not so long ago.

“That the Supreme Court is to give deference to the exercise of constitutional jurisdiction by other Tribunals, such as the Senate when sitting as an impeachment court, is likewise consistent with the essence of the Honorable Court as the Court of Last Resort by constitutional design,” the IBP said.

3. The quo warranto ouster decision is invalid

Citing Spouses Dacudao vs Secretary of Justice, the IBP stressed that the Supreme Court is a court of last resort. Using that principle, the IBP said the quo warranto ouster was an excess of jurisdiction.

Citing Lu vs Lu Ym, the IBP said: “A decision rendered by a Division of this Court in violation of this constitutional provision would be in excess of jurisdiction and, therefore, invalid.”

“In this regard, even a ruling by the Honorable Court that is an excess of jurisdiction is patently void for being unconstitutional and can never attain finality,” the IBP said.

4. The Supreme Court is not a trier of facts

When the Supreme Court ousted Sereno, it also made a determination that Sereno violated the Constitution when she supposedly failed to file her SALNs.

“In so doing, the Honorable Court, with all due respect, assumed a role which, by law and jurisprudence, is outside its turf. This constitutes grave and reversible error,” the IBP said.

The IBP stressed that the Court is not a trier of facts, and the issue of whether Sereno filed her SALNs or not “is undeniably a question of fact.”

“What is worse, the Honorable Court failed to maintain the cold neutrality of an impartial judge when it engaged in its own evidence-gathering expedition and sought to supplement the evidence already on record,” the SC said.

IBP said that Associate Justice Noel Tijam asked for the minutes of a 2012 JBC executive committee meeting.

“In other words, the Honorable Court not only assumed the role of a trial court, it even became an advocate and assisted the petitioner in discharging its burden of proof,” the IBP said.

Impassioned appeal 

To conclude, the IBP said the Supreme Court should avoid at all times applying a “hydraulic pressure” that bends and breaks settled principles of law.

“A rule observed by generations of lawyers, legal educators, and even law students suddenly changed on extraordinary considerations… These considerations can never justify the undermining of the rule of law,” the IBP said.

It added: “As the sworn sentinel of the Rule of Law, Intervenor IBP beseeches the Honorable Court not to let such a dangerous precedent set by the Assailed Decision remain in the annals of Philippine jurisprudence.”

The IBP made an impassioned appeal to the justices who are set to vote on the Sereno motion for reconsideration on June 19: “To uphold the Rule of Law remains to be one of the most essential duties of the Honorable Court and we implore the Honorable Court to do so.” – Rappler.com

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 lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.