SolGen ordered to reply on Sereno comment to quo warranto petition

MANILA The Supreme Court (SC) ordered the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to reply on the comment filed by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on its quo warranto petition seeking to nullify her appointment to the judiciary's top post.

SC spokesman Theodore Te announced the directive was issued following Tuesday's regular en banc session of the magistrates.

The Court directed the Solicitor General to submit the Republic's Reply to the respondent Chief Justice's Comment within five days from its receipt of notice, Te said.

In a 77-page comment to the OSG petition, Sereno, through her lawyers led by Alexander Poblador, said the SC has no authority to remove her from office via quo warranto because the text of the 1987 Constitution, the Constitutional Commission's deliberations, and established jurisprudence consistently state that impeachable officials like her can be ousted only by impeachment.

Article XI, Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution provides that impeachable officials, which include all members of the SC, may only be removed from office upon impeachment by the House of Representatives and conviction by the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court. The SC itself has consistently applied this provision as a limitation on its power to remove public officers.

The high court, she said, cannot take cognizance of or give due course to the [OSG petition] without running afoul of the plain dictates of the fundamental law and established judicial precedents.

Sereno said the petition should be dismissed not only because it is demanded by the Constitution and jurisprudence, but also because the Chief Justice deserves her day in court before the Senate sitting as an Impeachment Tribunal.

The top magistrate also pointed out the quo warranto petition of the OSG should not be entertained at all by the high court for being time-barred.

Section 11, Rule 66 of the Rules of Court, provides that a petition for quo warranto must be filed within one year from the cause of ouster, she said.

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 contended.

In a 34-page petition for quo warranto, Solicitor General Jose Calida asked the high court to declare Sereno's appointment on Aug. 24, 2012 as Chief Justice as void and oust her from the judiciary's top post.

The petition emanated from a letter filed by suspended lawyer Eligio Mallari, urging Calida to initiate a quo warranto proceeding against the top magistrate.

Last Feb. 21, Mallari, who called Sereno a "de facto chief justice", asked the OSG to initiate a quo warranto proceeding against her.

Under Rule 66 of the Rules of Court, a quo warranto proceeding is an action by the government against a person who unlawfully holds a public office or holds a position where he or she is not qualified.

Calida insisted that a quo warranto proceeding is a "proper remedy to question the validity of Sereno's appointment."

He also said that constitutional basis for ousting Sereno from her office are the following:

Article VIII, Section 5 (1) of the Constitution empowers the Supreme Court to exercise original jurisdiction over Quo Warranto cases, among others.

Article VIII, Section 7 (3) of the Constitution insists that a Member of the Judiciary must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence. Unfortunately for respondent Sereno, she flunked the test of integrity when she failed to file more or less 10 SALNs.

Article XI, Section 17 (Accountability of Public Officers) requires the submission of SALNs as often as maybe required by law (RA 3109). The blatant disregard by respondent Sereno to comply with the requirements of the law and Constitution proves her lack of integrity hence she is unlawfully holding the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Sereno, supporters not backing down

On Tuesday, around 50 people with purple ribbons held a rally in front of the high court's compound in Manila to express support for the Chief Justice.

Sereno earlier urged the House of Representatives to bring to a plenary vote the articles of impeachment against the country's top magistrate and immediately transmit these to the Senate so the trial can begin to determine whether or not there is basis to remove her from office.

In a statement, lawyer Josa Deinla, one of Sereno's spokespersons, said pro-impeachment lawmakers should expedite the process and prove their case before the Senate, which, together with the House, has the exclusive authority to discipline all impeachable officers for any impeachable offense.

Deinla said that for her part, the Chief Justice is now in the advanced stage of preparation for her looming impeachment trial in the Senate.

Sereno, who is currently on indefinite leave, earlier said her leave is meant for her to prepare her legal defense in her impeachment case, which is expected to reach the Senate anytime soon.

Last Feb. 27, 13 justices urged Sereno to take an indefinite leave during their en banc session.

The impeachment complaint was filed by lawyer Larry Gadon who claimed that Sereno did not declare in her SALN the exorbitant lawyer's fees of USD745,000 (PHP37 million) which she received from the Philippine government.

The impeachment complainant said the issue of SALN declaration is the strongest case presented against Sereno.

The complaint also alleged that Sereno committed corruption when she, among other things, used public funds to finance her extravagant and lavish lifestyle by ordering the purchase of a brand-new luxurious Toyota Land Cruiser 2017 model as her personal vehicle, amounting to more than PHP5 million; and stay in opulent hotels when attending conferences in the country and abroad. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency

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