Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has nowhere else to go amid the pendency of an impeachment proceeding against her at the House and the filing of quo warranto proceedings at the Supreme Court, House Justice Committee Chair Rey Umali said Monday.
Umali reiterated his call for Sereno to resign after 13 Supreme Court magistrates asked her to go on leave ahead of a possible impeachment trial in the Senate.
Sereno is facing impeachment proceedings at the House of Representatives after lawyer Lorenzo Gadon accused her of culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, and other high crimes.
"Even before that, malayo na 'yan, ngayon lang wala na siyang tatakbuhan. To my mind because what happened when 13 justices voted on a resolution to force her to go on leave wala na rin siya tatakbuhan. That leave can never be reconsidered without a majority of the SC justices overhauling the earlier resolution which is unanimous," Umali said.
"Kaya nga ano 'to, 'di ko naintindihan where the CJ is coming from, fighting it out when this is already the end of the road for her. Parang she’s just making things difficult for the country to bear," he added.
The congressman said the consensus of the 13 justices forcing Sereno to go on leave is a clue on how they may decide on the quo warranto petition.
"You have unanimous en banc or the en banc unanimously voting to force her to go on leave. Ang question ko ngayon - paano mo i-undo, that's a resolution coming from the court. Dapat ma-convince niya majority of those who signed to undo it so that she can go back. She cannot just go back and say 'My leave is finished. I want to resume my position.' [It] cannot be because the authority comes from the en banc through that resolution," he said.
"It is honorable for her to resign, that's the honorable thing for her to do. She’s the leader of the 3rd branch of the government, the judiciary. She’s the leader of the Supreme Court and leadership calls for her to do the right thing. What's the right thing to do? The honorable thing to do? Resign."
He discouraged Sereno from simply waiting for her colleagues to retire. Sereno is one of the youngest members of the SC.
"So? Ganun okay sa inyo' yan? Let me throw back the question to you. Would you accept such a situation where you have a sitting Chief Justice waiting for retirement, not doing anything in the Supreme Court because all of the things she will do will not gain the respect and confidence of her peers? Can you live in a situation where you're dealing with 14 other justices who dislike you distrust you? Okay ba sa inyo?” he said.
AKO BICOL Rep. Rodel Batocabe also asked for Sereno to make the supreme sacrifice.
“Siguro isa po dapat pag isipan po ni CJ Sereno, 'Di na sinasabi natin na guilty siya sa mga akusasyon sa kaniya, ay gumawa po ng pinakasupreme sacrifice of resigning to spare all institutions especially the Supreme Court," he said.
In a second legal challenge against Sereno apart from the impeachment proceedings at Congress, the Office of the Solicitor General on Monday asked the Supreme Court to void her appointment through a quo warranto petition.
In a statement, the Sereno camp said the latest development is part of a grand plan to harass the chief justice.
“We wish to reiterate that this latest action by the Solicitor General is part and parcel of the grand plan to harass, malign and humiliate the Chief Justice to force her to resign because her detractors know that the impeachment case, which was built on lies, won’t stand a chance in the Senate," the Sereno camp said.
SC JUSTICES SHOULD GO ON LEAVE
For his part, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman asked the justices who asked Sereno to go on leave to inhibit from the quo warranto case.
“The seven associate justices who unconstitutionally attempted to oust Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno must recuse themselves or inhibit from the adjudication of the quo warranto petition which is expected to be filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida questioning the validity of Sereno’s appointment," Lagman said.
"Calida purposely chose to file the petition before the Supreme Court, which has become a hostile forum against Sereno, even as the one-year period within which to file the action has prescribed five years ago pursuant to Section 11 of Rule 66 of the Rules of Court. Aside from the Supreme Court, the Solicitor General can file the petition in the Court of Appeals or even in a Regional Trial Court in the City of Manila."
Lagman cited Section 7 of Rule 66, which pertinently provides: “when the Solicitor General commences the action, it may be brought in a Regional Trial Court in the City of Manila, in the Court of Appeals, or in the Supreme Court.”
He said the appointment of Sereno complied with the basic requirements of the Constitution and no less than the Judicial and Bar Council endorsed her appointment to then-President Benigno Aquino III.
"An appointment enjoys the presumption of validity and a proffered argument that it is void ab initio is not favored. After their conspiracy to unseat Sereno failed, the seven justices succeeded in compelling Sereno to file an indefinite leave, which has no constitutional or legal anchorage. The quo warranto petition gives the subject seven justices the opportunity to pursue their scheme in removing the chief magistrate without waiting for the constitutional process of a Senate impeachment trial.The quo warranto petition inveigles the Supreme Court to violate the Constitution by usurping the power of the House of Representatives to impeach the Chief Justice and the jurisdiction of the Senate to try and judge her," Lagman said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, for his part, said the recent move by the Duterte administration and its allies in filing a quo warranto case against Chief Justice Sereno "exposes their lack of belief that their impeachment case against the latter could withstand Senate trial."
"As shown by the marathon committee proceedings, the various allegations thrown by Gadon and the witnesses he presented lack sufficient basis to impeach her. Thus, the Duterte administration and its allies are resorting to coordinated political maneuvers to pressure Sereno to resign instead of pursuing the impeachment trial. These maneuvers lack legal and constitutional bases however. The 1987 Constitution clearly provides that a sitting justice of the Supreme Court could only be removed through the mechanism of impeachment."
NO STRONG PUBLIC SENTIMENT VS SERENO?
For Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, the quo warranto petition versus Sereno is a last-minute attempt to remove her from her post.
"Even without consummating [Charter change], this administration is hell bent on rewriting the Constitution by trying to remove the fiercely independent Chief Justice through unconstitutional means."
"Despite the multiple attacks on the CJ’s (chief justice) person, its kangaroo court in the Committee on Justice has not built up a credible case of impeachable offenses committed by CJ Sereno. Thus, the administration doubts it can swing enough votes to oust Sereno in the Senate and is now resorting to this dubious quo warranto petition," he said.
Baguilat said it is possible that critics of Sereno are unconvinced they have the numbers to kick out the chief justice through the Senate impeachment trial.
"Hindi nakahubog ang impeachment hearings ng strong public sentiment laban kay Sereno kaya alanganin ang Senate support. Yang quo warranto petition - desperate hand conjured with the wildest irreverent imagination. Sana naman sa pagtalakay ng quo warranto, isipin ng justices na talagang binababoy na ang Supreme Court, hating hati na sila at binastos na ang integridad ng highest court of the land. Nasa sa kanilang collective decision na para maiwasto ang galang sa SC (Supreme Court)," Baguilat added.
UMALI SEES PLENARY VOTE IN MAY
Meanwhile, Umali said the House of Representatives may opt to vote on the impeachment proceedings in May or after Congress resumes sessions after its summer break.
"We will submit it March siguro, 'yung week of the 21st kasi break na kami ng 21st. In fact, we will vote upon it Thursday and then whatever will be the result of this voting on probable cause 'yun 'yung mapapasok sa articles of impeachment na bubuuin namin that we will vote upon in the impeachment committee next week," he said.
"Kailangan i-approve ang committee report together with the articles and assuming in all likelihood we will approve the report with the articles, we will submit it to the plenary, to the rules committee in particular by the week of March 21. Before we close, complete na kami sa constitutional duty to submit it on or before May 16, 2018," Umali added.
Once submitted to the Rules Committee, the plenary has 10 session days to put it on the agenda of the plenary session. Thus, they can vote either before the break or after the break.
Umali’s committee is scheduled to vote to determine probable cause on the impeachment complaint filed by Lorenzo Gadon on Thursday. The members will vote on each of the 27 allegations by Gadon.
This early though, the justice committee chair sees one allegation will be dismissed.
“Yung Muntinlupa judges, wala naman lumabas na irregular why should we incorporate it. We called in 3 judges, pare-pareho sinabi, even si Genelyn Delorino 'yun din sinabi so what's the point of incorporating it?” he said.
Revelations during the clarificatory hearings that Sereno did not file her statement of assets liabilities and net worth (SALN) from the time she was a professor at the University of the Philippines, when she applied for the position of Chief Justice, are likely to be included.
Umali said being on leave from UP at that time does not excuse Sereno from filing a SALN.
He also believes the discovery that she did not pay taxes and did not pay the correct taxes for the same period may also be added.
"Life blood doctrine it is a basic duty of any citizen to pay taxes. We’re not precluded. Meron ngang allegation she did not pay her taxes. That can be expanded. We required her to answer, she did not. Probably obfuscated the issue, 'yun 'yung nangyari, lumabas may discrepancy," he said.
Umali also said even the psychological/psychiatric evaluation will be inputted into the draft articles of impeachment.
He dismissed claims by Sereno supporters that the committee can only vote on what Gadon originally alleged and must exclude new revelations.
"I don't agree with that. Impeachment proceedings are sui generis so this is as a class of its own. It is not similar to any other. This is the province of impeachment committee - to exact accountability. Whatever accountability, whatever she needs to account to the people can be covered by the impeachment proceeding so because we always give her the right to refute by not attending, she opted not to, that's her look out," Umali said.