MANILA - The lawyer who filed the impeachment case against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Thursday said the chief magistrate may be removed by the Supreme Court, the institution she heads.
Sereno's chief accuser Lorenzo Gadon echoed House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez's earlier statement, saying her appointment may be deemed fraudulent for failure to comply with requirements for the position.
"Mas gugustuhin ko na ang pagkatanggal niya (I prefer that her removal) is based on legal ground," Gadon said.
Alvarez had on Wednesday urged the Office of the Solicitor General to file a case assailing Sereno's 2012 appointment before the Supreme Court.
Gadon said the high court has supervision over the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), the body that vets and shortlists applicants to the judiciary. The President picks appointees from shortlists prepared by the council.
In a forum, Gadon said impeachment hearings at the House of Representatives "has led to the discovery that [the] chief justice was not qualified for the position."
"It was established that she has not passed the substantial compliance on submission of at least ten (10) years of SALN (Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth). This fact has rendered her appointment by the Office of the President as void ab initio as it was an appointment done out of fraud," he said.
Former President Benigno Aquino III appointed Sereno to the high court post in 2012 following the ouster of the late chief magistrate Renato Corona, who was removed for undeclared wealth.
Then 52, Sereno was expected to stay in her post until reaching the mandatory retirement age in 2030.
She is currently on indefinite leave as she prepared for a possible impeachment trial.
"While arguably the position of Chief Justice is removable through the process of impeachment, this, however, presupposes the condition that the removal is anchored on grounds of culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust , graft and corruption and other high crimes, all of which likewise pre-supposes a condition that is supervening after the appointment. Fraud to secure appointment is different," he added.
Gadon asserted that the Supreme Court, which "has control and supervision of the Judicial and Bar Council and the final interpreter of the laws," can revoke Sereno's appointment on the following grounds:
- The appointment is void ab initio for failure to submit even the minimum substantial compliance of 10 years SALN;
- Many government officials and employees of lower ranks have been dismissed from government service with perpetual disqualification to hold public office because of non-submission or untruthful declaration of SALN;
- If not revoked, the appointment will set a dangerous precedent of incomparable atrocious legal consequence that is tantamount to an admission that our ideals of good governance have gone to the gutters of perdition.
"It should be established in our jurisprudence that even for the position of impeachable officers, if the ground for revocation is fraud to secure the appointment perpetrated with most despicable malicious intent, the appointment can be legally revoked," he said.
"For purposes of argument, setting aside the involvement of Sereno as an object, given the political nature of an impeachment proceeding in general, I shudder on the thought of a grim scenario wherein the House and the Senate would refuse to remove and convict an impeachable official even in the face of strong evidence of fraud. The effect then would be a total damnation of the rule of law and a wholesale wastage of all the legal principles, wisdom of good governance and all the ideals of a civilized society," he added.
"This is because we will consequently and consciously establish a principle that an act tainted with malicious and illegal fraud can be condoned just because of the consequence of a political nature of impeachment proceeding," he said.
Gadon said this track may be pursued separate from the ongoing impeachment proceedings since her appointment could be declared void from the start.
Unless Sereno's failure to comply with the submission of SALNs is checked, other government officials and employees can use it as an excuse to misdeclare or not file their SALNs, he said.
"As a lawyer, I am deeply concerned of a theoretical scenario in the future where the President of the Republic uses his immense power and appoint an official that is cloaked and tainted with fraud and, thereafter, such official cannot be removed simply because the House and the Senate are controlled by political or economic interests," he said.
He said he is seeking this revocation by the Supreme Court "in [the] slightest probability that the Senate would indeed acquit her."