MANILA - (UPDATE) President Rodrigo Duterte can fire Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who should not have been appointed as top magistrate in the first place, a lawmaker said Friday.
Malacañang, however, said it is leaving the "fate of the CJ to Congress."
Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso, vice-chairman of the House Committee on Justice, said Sereno only submitted one of her Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALNs) to the Judicial and Bar Council when the panel was deliberating on the new Chief Justice in 2012, despite a notice from the council directing applicants to submit all of their SALNs.
A decision from the Supreme Court in 1963 established that "if at the time of appointment, petitioner did not have necessary qualifications for the office...then he did not have the right to be there," said Veloso.
"This is what I am afraid of—the President might take it to mean that he has now the power to dismiss the Chief Justice," he told ANC's Early Edition.
Asked if the President can do it, Veloso said: “Why not?”
"The most that the Chief Justice can claim is she has been a ‘chief justice de facto.’ The members of the Supreme Court cannot dismiss her; there should be a case but let her go to court and challenge the action of the President if the President recalls the appointment," he said.
Sereno is battling an impeachment complaint that alleged she had undeclared wealth and betrayed public trust, among others. House lawmakers are expected to resolve within the month if there is probable cause for her impeachment.
In October last year, Duterte dared Sereno and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales to resign with him, saying the two had allowed themselves to be "used" in the corruption allegations against him.
In November, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Sereno should resign to spare the judiciary from further damage after the impeachment of her predecessor, Renato Corona.
Days later, however, Duterte denied he was involved in ouster moves against Sereno, who was appointed by former President Benigno Aquino III.