After quo warranto, Supreme Court now vulnerable – Leonen

MANILA, Philippines – The decision of the Supreme Court to oust Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno through a quo warranto petition will leave the High Court vulnerable, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said on Friday, May 11.

In an impassioned dissenting opinion, Leonen said the petition creates “a precedent that gravely diminishes judicial independence.” (READ: DOCUMENT: SC Justice Leonen's dissenting opinion on Sereno ouster)

"Even if the Chief Justice has failed our expectations, quo warranto, as a process to oust an impeachable officer and a sitting member of the Supreme Court, is a legal abomination,” Leonen wrote.

Calida now has “awesome powers"

Leonen also said the decision has rendered the Supreme Court "subservient to an aggressive Solicitor General” and "unnecessarily vulnerable to powerful interests."

He also called Solicitor General Jose Calida "a repeat litigant representing the current political administration, far more than any other constitutional officer."

Leonen said the petition “should have been dismissed outright” and “does not deserve space in judicial deliberation within our constitutional democratic space."

The petition is grounded on Sereno’s failure to submit several of her Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALNs) when she was applying for the post of chief justice.

“The determination of integrity is so much more nuanced than merely submitting documents like Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth or clearances from government agencies," he wrote, echoing what he had earlier said during oral arguments on the petition.

Although SALNs play "a critical function in eliminating corruption,” Leonen said they are "merely a tool in determining if an applicant possesses integrity and is not the actual measure of integrity."

Moreover, Leonen asserted that only impeachment can remove Sereno from office.

"Clearly, the power to remove an impeachable an exclusive function of the House of Representatives and the Senate.”

Can of worms

Leonen enumerated several implications of granting the quo warranto petition.

He said the move will affect the principle of professional collegiality in courts. For instance, a trial court judge can now oust a colleague from another branch or another judicial region through a quo warranto petition.

Leonen also said that security of tenure of justices who continuously express dissent are likewise on the line.

Leonen also said the decision "opens the way to reviewing actions of the JBC [Judicial and Bar Council] and the President." 

The move also effectively required that all applicants for Chief Justice must now submit all of their SALNs.

Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.