MANILA The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) asked the Supreme Court (SC) to uphold its decision granting its quo warranto petition which ousted Ma. Lourdes Sereno from the judiciary's top post.
In a 70page comment filed on Wednesday, Solicitor General Jose Calida asked the high court to deny the motion for reconsideration filed by Sereno for lack of merit.
The OSG argued the importance of the Constitutional and statutory obligation for public servants to file SALNs, highlighting the case in 1997 of a court interpreter of a regional trial court in Davao ordered dismissed by the SC en banc and her retirement benefits forfeited for failure to disclose in her SALN that she had a stall in the public market. This court employee was also ordered barred from reemployment in government, including governmentowned and controlled corporations.
The OSG stressed that the SC did not encroach in the powers of the legislative department when it granted the quo warranto proceedings against Sereno.
"When the Court took cognizance of the quo warranto petition, it was merely exercising the power allocated to it. It was settling a legal controversy. A quo warranto is an action against the usurpation of a public office or position, which is under the court's jurisdiction. Therefore, the Court correctly ruled that its assumption of jurisdiction over the present action for quo warranto is not violative of separation of powers."
The top government counsel also stressed that the issue of lack of integrity of Sereno is not a political question and the one year bar rule to file quo warranto proceedings does not apply to the case of Sereno.
"Since the present case deals with the eligibility of respondent to hold the highest position in the judiciary, it is one of transcendental importance. It involves public interest. In not strictly applying the statute of limitations, the Court considered that respondent was never forthright concerning her SALNs while she was employed at UP as a university professor. She deliberately glossed over the defect in her appointment."
A dispassionate examination of the 1987 Constitution will dispel the fallacies of argument mounted against the removal, through a quo warranto proceeding, of impeachable officers like [Sereno]. There is no denying that Section 5(1), Article VIII of the Constitution grants the Court (SC) original jurisdiction over quo warranto petitions.
The subject matter of the quo warranto petition before the [SC] is [Sereno's] ineligibility to be appointed Chief Justice. It does not revolve on any impeachable offense that she may have committed. Assuming that the articles of impeachment will be submitted to the Senate, that body is not authorized to resolve the issue of [her]ineligibility because it is not an impeachable offense, the OSG explained.
Comparing the 1935, 1973, and 1987 Philippine Constitutions on their respective provisions on impeachment, the OSG pointed out that both in the 1935 and 1973 Constitutions, the words shall and only were used to refer to the use of the impeachment mode to remove the President, VicePresident, Justices of the SC, and members of the constitutional commissions.
However, in the 1987 Constitution, the OSG explained that the use of may be removed from office, on impeachment for, and conviction of, is construed as merely permissive and conferring discretion but cannot be construed as having a mandatory effect.
It clarifies also that quo warranto is a remedy which is distinct from impeachment since in the former no title was vested to her and remains a de facto public officer while in impeachment it is a removal of a qualified public officer.
"It is therefore in a quo warranto proceeding that the subject public officer is considered as having acted in a de facto capacity. This is not true for a public officer facing an impeachment trial. Necesarrily, that public officer is considered de jure because the validity of his of her appointment is not in question."
In her plea, Sereno said the six magistrates in the majority should recuse from the case. Associate Justices Teresita LeonardoDe Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Francis Jardeleza, Noel Tijam, Lucas Bersamin and Samuel Martires should have not joined in the deliberation of the quo warranto petition for showing bias against her.
But the OSG said Sereno's claims are a mere speculation and surmise and [s]he has no clear and convincing evidence to show bias on the part of some members of the Court.
After the submission of the OSG's comment, the court is expected to rule on Sereno's motion for reconsideration also within this month, upon the return of its ponente, Associate Justice Noel Tijam who is currently on leave.
Earlier, lawyer Jojo Lacanilao, one of Sereno's spokespersons, said that they are encouraged that the justices have given themselves more time to appreciate the new arguments, facts and matters that make the reconsideration of the May 11 decision compelling.
Unless reconsidered, that Decision will wreak havoc on the basic premise of judicial decisions, which is fair play in an impartial tribunal, consistency with judicial precedents and as important, the preservation of the constitutional checks and balance, Lacanilao said in a statement.
He said the constitutional design requires respect for the Senate's exclusive power to remove impeachable officials and for the stability of the tenure of public officials by the ban on quo warranto after one year has set in.
Judicial independence requires respect for the impeachment process to ensure independence even of justices from each other. Accusers, especially if there is rivalry for a post, cannot be at the same time judges of the person sought to be removed, he noted.
The country calls on the Justices to set aside personal animosity and rule only according to what is right, he added.
In seeking the reversal of the Court's ruling, Sereno argued that the nullification of her appointment through the quo warranto petition is null and void as it was rendered in violation of her right to due process.
Apart from Sereno's ouster, the SC also issued a show cause order requiring her to explain why she should not be penalized for supposedly violating Code of Professional Responsibility and Code of Judicial Conduct "for transgressing the sub juice rule and for casting aspersions and ill motives to the members of the Supreme Court."
Voting 86, the high court ruled in favor of the quo warranto petition case against Sereno last May 11.
It cited Sereno's lack of integrity for her failure to file her complete Statements of Assets Liabilities and Networth (SALN) to remove her from office on the basis of a supposedly invalid appointment in 2012.
In its decision, the SC majority ruled that Sereno's failure to submit her SALNs as law professor at the University of the Philippines would mean her integrity was not established at the time of her application, making her ineligible to hold her position. (PNA)
Source: Philippine News Agency