SC rules prohibit ouster of members after one year - former justice

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 30 2018 10:13 AM | Updated as of Apr 30 2018 05:29 PM

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. Gigie Cruz, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The Supreme Court's own internal rules prohibit the granting of an ouster petition against any of its members, including Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, after a year of assumption into office, a retired justice said Monday.

Former SC Associate Justice Vicente Mendoza said that after a justice of the Supreme Court has assumed office, he or she "can no longer be questioned by writ of quo warranto after working or discharging the function of his office one year from that date." 

"A quo warranto proceeding filed against a member of the court or any impeachable officer for that matter filed more than a year after assumption of office will undermine the security of tenure guaranteed by the Constitution to public officers who are simply removable by impeachment and ultimately subvert the independence of the judiciary," he told ANC's Headstart.

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Mendoza cited Rule 66, Section 11 of the tribunal's 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, which stated that: "Nothing contained in this Rule shall be construed to authorize an action against a public officer or employee for his ouster from office unless the same be commenced within one (1) year after the cause of such ouster, or the right of the petitioner to hold such office or position, arose."

He said the court is allowed to entertain and hear the case, but it should dismiss it for lack of jurisdiction.

Mendoza said the justices are "very much aware" of the rule against granting a quo warranto petition after a magistrate's year of tenure since they promulgated it themselves. 

"I do not want to think that it will not follow its own rules…I want to think the court will be aware not only of the rules of court, but also of its prior decisions," he said.

"You cannot bring a suit for quo warrant to test the validity of the title or right of a person who is impeachable by quo warranto—except by impeachment," he added.

The Supreme Court magistrates will vote on the quo warranto petition filed against Sereno by Solicitor General Jose Calida on May 11, according to ABS-CBN sources. The voting will coincide with the submission of separate concurring and dissenting opinions, the source added.

Associate Justice Noel Tijam, the justice to whom the case was raffled, was set to circulate his final draft decision on Thursday, April 26, instead of the original April 23 target. 

Tijam’s first 60-page draft grants the government's plea, declaring Sereno’s appointment on August 24, 2012 null and void due to her failure to meet the eligibility requirement set by the Judicial and Bar Council upon her application for the top judicial post in 2012.

CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS

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Sereno's colleagues preventing her from resuming her post as the top magistrate of the Supreme Court could trigger a constitutional crisis, said Mendoza.

"If she wants to return and say that her leave of absence is over, would they allow her? That would put the court in a critical position and will really bring about a constitutional crisis. It will upset the balance of power in the government," he said.

"That’s going to be the beginning of the weakening of the Supreme Court as a co-equal branch of government," he added.

He said if preventing Sereno from returning was merely a matter of delicadeza because of a pending case against her, then it was acceptable.

"But they cannot prevent her from assuming office because disqualification is personal to every justice. If a justice feels that he is qualified and can vote objectively in accordance with conscience, then he can proceed; but the moment someone challenges his integrity or ability to sit, continuous sitting in the case, I think he should explain why he should inhibit or recuse himself from the consideration of the case," he said.

Mendoza, who taught some of the magistrates such as Sereno and Associate Justices Teresita De Castro and Antonio Carpio, said he was shocked to see the magistrates testifying against their Chief Justice in a congressional hearing.

"I’ve been teaching students the value of having an independent judiciary...You cannot have a Supreme Court which is a house divided. They may disagree all they want, but at the end of the day, they should always sit together as brethren," he said.

He said it was "unthinkable" for a court to require or order its Chief Justice to take a leave when there is no case before it.

He was referring to the indefinite leave Sereno took per consensus vote of the magistrates just about the time that the House justice committee was conducting its last hearing on the impeachment complaint filed against her.

"How sad, how ironic that today, the Supreme Court finds itself embroiled in a turmoil that involves not only the life of a member, but the life of the institution itself," he said.

"I hope that they will have fortitude, the wisdom, and the courage to render judgment according to law and above all, according to conscience," he added.