'Baseless': Why 6 justices rejected Sereno's inhibition plea

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 11 2018 09:29 PM

'Baseless': Why 6 justices rejected Sereno's inhibition plea 1
Ousted Chief Justice Sereno greets her supporters minutes after the Supreme Court released its decision removing her from office on Friday, May 11, 2018. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News


MANILA - "Baseless."

This was how the Supreme Court described ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno's call for the inhibition of six associate justices from proceedings on the petition to remove her from office.

On allegations of bias, Sereno had sought the recusal of Associate Justices Teresita De Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza, Samuel Martires, and Noel Tijam, author of the majority ruling. 

The six, however, rejected the plea and were among eight who voted to oust her.

In a decision penned by Tijam released Friday night, the high court said Sereno lacked "strong and compelling evidence" in proving the supposed bias of the six magistrates against her.

"Mere conjectures and speculations cannot justify the inhibition of a Judge or Justice from a judicial matter," the court said in its ruling.

"We deem it baseless, not to mention problematic, the respondent's prayer that the matter of inhibition of the six Associate Justices be decided by the remaining members of the Court En Banc," it added.

The high court also dismissed Sereno's argument that the challenged justices should inhibit from ouster proceedings against her out of "delicadeza," saying this should take on a ground of voluntary inhibition.

"Moreover, exclusion from the deliberations due to delicadeza or sense of decency, partakes of a ground apt for a voluntary inhibition," the court said.

"It bears to be reminded that voluntary inhibition, leaves to the sound discretion of the judges concerned whether to sit in a case for other just and valid reasons, with only their conscience as guide," it added.

The decision on whether or not a magistrate should recuse from joining proceedings of a certain case is also best determined by the magistrate sought to be disqualified, the Supreme Court said.

MAGISTRATES EXPLAIN

In separate opinions, four of the six magistrates explained their reasons for rejecting Sereno's recusal plea.

De Castro criticized Sereno's call for her inhibition, saying the petition was "not spared of her blatant lies."

Sereno had sought De Castro's recusal saying the latter has “repeatedly manifested actual bias, if not personal animosity” towards her. 

"Respondent's accusation against me is but a figment of her imagination. She lied once again as she did many times even under oath without remorse or guilt feelings," De Castro said in her concurring opinion.

Peralta, meanwhile, denied Sereno's claim that he should disqualify himself from the quo warranto case because as former head of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), he would have personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the petition.

"I have no personal knowledge of the disputed facts concerning the proceedings," he said.

"I maintain that respondent failed to establish that I have actual bias concerning her qualification to be appointed as Chief Justice," he added.

In his separate opinion, Bersamin denied alluding to Sereno as a "dictator" as she had alleged, saying his answers were taken out of context.

"My statement was clearly hypothetical about what the Court
would become if any of its Members, including her as the Chief Justice, was to act dictatorially," he said in his concurring opinion.

"I vehemently deny the respondent's unwarranted and unfair imputations of bias against and animosity towards her," he added.

Martires rejected Sereno's claim that he was a "faith-shaming" justice, calling it a "desperate move to invite sympathy."

Sereno, a devout Christian, alleged that Martires " insinuated that her pervasive faith in God could be a sign of mental illness."

"...Sereno now changes her self-styled award-winning act by shifting the blame from political personalities and the independence of the judiciary to religion," he said in his concurring opinion.

Martires said Sereno's allegations hit him "where it hurts most." 

"Sereno is fully aware that we have the same spiritual beliefs - that God is the reason for our success, the source of our happiness, and the center of our lives," he said.

"It would be incongruous, if not totally absurd, for me to consider movant Sereno as "sira ulo" on the basis of her religious beliefs because that would make me crazier than her," he added.

Sereno, who was expected to serve as chief magistrate until reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 2030, was removed on Friday via a "quo warranto" petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida.

Her expulsion from the high court marks the first time that a chief justice was removed through a "quo warranto" plea, a legal recourse Sereno's camp had argued as incorrect.