SolGen set to question Sereno's qualifications as Chief Justice

Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 04 2018 11:14 PM | Updated as of Mar 05 2018 12:42 PM

MANILA - Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno's appointment to the top judicial post is set to be questioned Monday before the Supreme Court (SC) by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), which will argue that Sereno is "unlawfully holding the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court."

The OSG, led by Solicitor General Jose Calida, will file a petition for quo warranto, questioning Sereno's qualifications for chief magistrate, and urging the high court to void her appointment for failure to meet the requirements for the post.

The petition willl be filed under Rule 66 of the Rules of Court, and will zero in on "usurpation of a public office."

Under said rule, the Solicitor General or a public prosecutor is authorized to commence an action for quo warranto before the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals or Regional Trial Court. A ruling in favor of such petition will lead to the ouster of the respondent.

"Petitioner Republic of the Philippines consequently prays that this Honorable Court: (1) Declare as void Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno's appointment on August 24, 2012 as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines; and (2) Oust Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno from the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines," the OSG petition stated.

The petition raised Sereno's failure to file her Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALNs) for a period of 17 years during her 28 stint at the University of the Philippines College of Law from 1986 to 2006. During said period, Sereno's filed SALNs on record are only for 1998, 2002, and 2006.

The filing of SALNs is required by law, provided for under Article XI, Section 17 of the 1987 Constitution and Section 8 of Republic Act (RA) No 6713, also known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

The Administrative Code of 1987 also provides that "[a] public officer or employee shall upon assumption of office and as often as thereafter as may be required by law, submit a declaration under oath of his assets, liabilities, and net worth."

While under RA No. 3019, also known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, a violation of the SALN requirement "shall be sufficient cause for removal or dismissal of a public officer" through proper administrative proceedings.

The OSG also pointed out that when Sereno applied for Chief Justice in 2012, the mandatory submission of SALNs for a period of 10 years was a requirement instituted by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), the body that screens and shortlists applicants for the judiciary.

Because of her SALN woes, the petition stressed that Sereno failed to meet the constitutional requirement of "competence, integrity, probity, and independence" provided for in Article VIII (Judicial Department), Section 7 (3) of the 1987 Constitution.

"Respondent was nominated to the positions of Associate Justice and Chief Justice despite her failure to file her SALNs which were required to determine whether she passed the constitutional requirement of integrity," the petition read.

NOMINATION AND SHORTLISTING BY JBC DOES NOT EXTINGUISH VIOLATIONS

The OSG contended that Sereno is a "de facto" Chief Justice, and her nomination and shortlisting for the top judicial post did not and cannot extinguish her failure to comply with the mandatory constitutional and statutory submission of SALNs.

The petition further explained that the rule must apply to all.

"That the JBC nominated respondent for the Chief Justice post does not extinguish the fact that she failed to comply with the SALN requirement under the Constitution and relevant laws... The JBC cannot waive the filing of SALNs with respect to respondent but demand compliance from the other applicants for it amounts to a violation of the equal protection clause," the petition read.

Complying with the House subpoena for copies of Sereno's SALNs, the JBC, in a letter dated December 18, 2017, said Sereno submitted only her SALN for 2006 upon her application for SC Associate Justice in July 2010. The JBC also said it received only her 2009, 2010, and 2011 SALNs when she applied for Chief Justice on July 2, 2012 despite the 10-year SALN requirement.

DIFFERENT FROM IMPEACHMENT, SIMILAR TO QUO WARRANTO PROCEEDINGS VS. PRESIDENT OR VICE-PRESIDENT

The OSG explained that the petition for quo warranto against Sereno "should be differentiated from the impeachment proceedings against her at the House of Representatives" in that the House impeachment proceedings, stemming from the complaint of lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, question her alleged violations and offenses after her appointment as Chief Justice, while the quo warranto case questions her eligibility for the post prior to appointment.

The OSG said that while Sereno is an impeachable officer, she, like the President or Vice-President of the Philippines, may be subjected to quo warranto proceedings.

The petition cited the 2010 Rules of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), which provide for quo warranto proceedings against the President and Vice-President, who are, like the Chief Justice, both impeachable officers.

Under Rule 16 on quo warranto of the PET Rules, "A verified petition for quo warranto contesting the election of the President or Vice-President on the ground of eligibility or disloyalty to the Republic of the Philippines may be filed by any registered voter who has voted in the election concerned within ten days after the proclamation of the winner."

The OSG said "[PET] rules may be applied by analogy."

"The Court recognizes the availability of quo warranto against an impeachable officer. In other words, respondent cannot claim that as Chief Justice, she can only be removed by impeachment under Section 2, Article XI of the Constitution," the petition stated.

The OSG argued that quo warranto proceedings are initiated within a one-year period, and in the case of Sereno the period began to run only upon discovery of her failure to declare her wealth during the House impeachment hearings.