SolGen defends quo warranto: Sereno impeachment excludes ineligibility

Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 27 2018 06:19 PM | Updated as of Mar 03 2020 12:30 PM

Solicitor General Jose Calida and Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. Composite/File

MANILA- Solicitor General Jose Calida on Tuesday defended his plea to remove Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno from office, arguing that impeachment proceedings don't cover ineligibility, unlike his petition for "quo warranto."

In his reply to Sereno's comment to his petition, Calida explained that his petition "seeks to oust respondent because she is ineligible to be the Chief Justice."

“The Constitution does not include ineligibility to public position as a ground for impeachment. No one can be convicted for ineligibility. The sole purpose of impeachment proceedings is to hold a public officer accountable for wrongdoings committed in office," he said.

The government's top lawyer noted that his petition does not cover impeachable offenses but stems from the argument that Sereno allegedly has no authority to be chief magistrate to start with.

"The Solicitor General has good reason to believe that respondent has no authority to occupy the esteemed office of the Chief Justice of the Republic of the Philippines: she had not shown that she possessed proven integrity, an indispensable qualification for appointment to the Judiciary," Calida said.

Calida is seeking to void Sereno's appointment, saying the Chief Justice is "unlawfully holding" her post due to her alleged failure to fully disclose her wealth.

The petition accused Sereno of "usurpation of a public office" as public officials are required under the law to file their statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN). 

The mandatory submission was institutionalized as an offshoot of the ouster of Sereno’s predecessor, Chief Justice Renato Corona, over the issue of SALN compliance.

Sereno has urged the Supreme Court to dismiss Calida's petition, arguing that she can only be removed through ouster proceedings.

She is facing impeachment proceedings at the House of Representatives, initiated by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, who accused her of culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, and other high crimes. 

Earlier this month, the Chief Justice went on indefinite leave as she prepares for a possible impeachment trial at the Senate.

IMPEACHMENT NOT MANDATORY MEANS TO REMOVE IMPEACHABLE OFFICER

While the 1987 Constitution provides that impeachable officers “may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of…” the Solicitor General said this “cannot be construed as having mandatory effect,” unlike its counterpart provision in the 1973 Constitution. 

“Unlike the wordings of Section 1, Article IX of the 1935 Constitution and Section 2 of Article XIII of the 1973 Constitution, which both state, ‘shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of,’ the present phraseology of Section 2, Article XI of the 1987 Constitution provides ‘may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of.’

Calida argued that the use of the word "may" in the provision is "construed as permissive and operating to confer discretion."

"It cannot be construed as having mandatory effect. Where the words of a statute (or the Constitution, for that matter) are clear, plain, and free from ambiguity, they must be given their literal meaning and applied without attempted interpretation,” he said.

In cases of ineligibility, the proper means is through quo warranto proceedings, Calida said.

He cited the deliberations of the Constitutional Commission, where Commissioner Francisco Rodrigo stated that members (justices) of the judiciary may not be removed from office “except by impeachment or some very difficult process.” 

PERJURIOUS ACTS AND MISREPRESENTATION 

The Solicitor General further accused Sereno of committing “gross misrepresentation before the Judicial Bar Council when she wrote to explain she could not produce her other SALNs because she could no longer “retrieve them.”

“Truth, however, is that she failed to file her SALN eleven times from 1986 to 2006,” Calida said.

Upon perusal of Sereno’s submitted SALN’s, Calida said she committed falsehoods and “perjurious act.” 

Sereno’s SALN dated December 31, 1998 was filed only in 2003, according to Calida, or 5 years beyond the period required by law. 

Her 2009 SALN reflects she was holding the SC Associate Justice post, when it fact she was appointed to the high court only in August 2010.

When she resigned in June 2006 as a UP professor, she should have submitted a SALN as of the same year; however, her 2006 SALN bears no stamp receipt from UP and was only signed on July 27, 2010, the same day she submitted it to the JBC, Calida bared.

“It appears that she fabricated her 2006 SALN in an attempt to submit a SALN to the JBC during her application for Associate Justice in 2010. These perjurious acts further bolster Sereno’s utter lack of integrity…," he said.