[OPINION] Lest we forget, the Supreme Court is a human institution

Katryna Anne R. Tomenio
[OPINION] Lest we forget, the Supreme Court is a human institution
Oust her if you must, but oust her in accordance with the law.

There is no room for comparison between the impeachment of the late chief justice Renato Corona and the ousting of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. The two magistrates’ cases both involved Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net worth (SALNs), yet no quo warranto petition saw the light of day in Corona’s case.

The SALN requirement is for the purpose of promoting a high standard of ethics in public service. It is for this reason that Corona’s undeclared peso-dollar accounts, found to be disproportionate to his legal income, gave rise to the presumption that such wealth is ill-gotten. This constitutes betrayal of public trust, a ground for impeachment. (READ: Ateneo calls for support to overturn Sereno ouster)

In Sereno’s case, her failure to submit her SALN to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), although testified to have been deemed waived, is considered by the majority decision a “reflection of lack of integrity,” effectively disqualifying her to hold the office of the chief justice.

There was no ostensible evidence that would lead to believing that CJ Sereno’s wealth was ill-gotten. However, the majority decision declared that “there is no need to allege or prove graft and corruption to prove a magistrate’s lack of integrity,” that her failure to submit SALN constitutes a violation of the Constitution and the law. (READ: EXPLAINER: How SC majority tried to close all doors for ousted Sereno)

This is where Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio’s dissenting opinion is germane. While he agrees that CJ Sereno’s failure to submit a SALN constitutes a culpable violation of the Constitution, he contends that it is proper that the charges should be tried under the jurisdiction of the impeachment court pursuant to the letters of the Constitution.

The premises are simple: Her failure to submit a SALN constitutes ground for the filing of an impeachment complaint. Oust her if you must, but oust her in accordance with the law.

Any other ordinary person familiar with the English language would understand that “may be removed from office” in the contentious provision under Section 2, Article XI of the 1987 Constitution means that there is no obligation to remove the officials but allows the removal thereof via impeachment. It is a shame that erudite and well-versed justices who hold the power to shape the Philippine legal system would think differently. (READ: [OPINION] Sereno ouster: Implications on accountability)

The majority decision itself conceded that the impeachment trial and the quo warranto proceedings were not mutually exclusive.

The question becomes inevitable at this point: If the charges filed against Sereno cover the ground for impeachment – the same way Corona’s case was, but which was tried by an impeachment court – why was the quo warranto petition really, and truly, granted?

Justice Marvic Leonen’s impassioned dissent, after a thorough discussion on the reading of the Constitution, categorically concludes that Sereno, an impeachable officer, can only be removed via impeachment, averring that the grant of the quo warranto petition to oust an impeachable officer is a legal abomination. In fact, past jurisprudence supports this notion.

A legal luminary, Fr Joaquin Bernas wrote: “The right to be removed only by impeachment is the Constitution’s strongest security of tenure. The guarantee effectively blocks the use of other legal ways of ousting an officer.”

It is time for us to recall the Supreme Court decision in In re Gonzales when it dismissed the suggestion that a Supreme Court justice may be subjected to a disbarment proceeding, holding that “there is a fundamental procedural requirement that must be observed before such liability may be determined and enforced,” and that is to remove first the official “via constitutional route of impeachment.”

This is a perfect example where the doctrine of stare decisis should be observed. Where a matter has been previously decided, it should not be disturbed and the only thing left for the Court to do is to apply the rule laid before. At this point, it raises the question: Why abandon a perfectly stable and operational jurisprudence in the hour of political turmoil? Is the ousting a political question hiding in the veil of justiciable question?

For this reason alone, it becomes our duty, as the constituency, to resist amidst the disruption. – Rappler.com

Katryna Tomenio is a graduate of Bachelor of Arts in Legal Studies at Saint Louis University in Baguio City. Currently, she is taking up law in San Beda University. 

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