Despite dissent, Carpio says Sereno guilty of impeachable offense

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 12 2018 03:39 PM | Updated as of May 12 2018 04:02 PM

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. Composite


MANILA - Despite voting against the ouster of Maria Lourdes Sereno as Chief Justice, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said she had committed culpable violation of the Constitution -- an impeachable offense. 

In his dissenting opinion on the Supreme Court's grant of a quo warranto plea to remove Sereno, Carpio said her repeated failure to file her statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN) while in public office was a ground for impeachment.
 
"The repeated non-filing of SALN therefore constitutes culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust, which are grounds for impeachment under the Constitution," he said.

Solicitor General Jose Calida filed the "quo warranto" petition against Sereno due to her failure to submit her SALNs, a requirement set by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) when she applied for the top judicial post in 2012.

Sereno submitted only 3 SALNs - those for the years 2009, 2010 and 2011 - when she applied as top magistrate. 

The JBC required the submission of all SALNs of an applicant in government service. 

Later, the substantial compliance was set by the JBC at 10 years prior to application to the top judicial post, or from 2002 to 2011.

In its ruling, the court had found that Sereno failed to file her SALNs for 11 years - 1986, 1987, 1988, 1992, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 - while holding public office.

The country's first female chief justice, Sereno was ousted by her colleagues on Friday with a vote of 8-6.

Her removal from office marked the first time the Philippines removed a chief justice through a "quo warranto" plea, a legal recourse Sereno's camp had argued as incorrect.

Sereno is facing a separate impeachment case at the House of Representatives, the first ouster plea filed against her. The case accused Sereno of failing to fully disclose her wealth, leading a lavish lifestyle, and committing administrative irregularities, among others. 

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Lawyer Oscar Franklin Tan on Saturday said the six dissenters to the majority ruling based their decisions on procedure, underscoring that Sereno should have been subjected to impeachment proceedings.

"The dissenters were more focused on the Constitution and the institutional rules which I have to agree with generally," he told ANC.

"Even if you accept a quo warranto, you cannot accept a quo warranto more than six years into office because it would create instability in all government positions," he added.

QUO WARRANTO GRANT VIOLATES CONSTITUTION

In his opinion, Carpio agreed with Sereno's argument that she could only be removed from office by impeachment, saying any other process would be a means "to rewrite" the Constitution.

"The provision mandating removal only by impeachment is the Constitution's strongest guarantee of security of tenure. The guarantee effectively blocks the use of other legal ways of ousting an officer," he said.

"To allow any other method is to re-write the Constitution. To permit this quo warranto petition to remove an incumbent member of this Court is to violate the Constitution," he added.

What the Supreme Court should have done, Carpio said, was to treat Sereno's case as an administrative one and leave it to Congress to decide on her fate.

"This Court should treat the present quo warranto petition as an
administrative investigation by this Court of one of its members," he said.

"The House impeaches, and the Senate convicts. This is the only
method allowed under the Constitution to remove a member of this Court," he added.

He said the removal of impeachable officers from their posts was an "exclusive mandate" of Congress that no court could assume.

In the majority decision, the court said a quo warranto plea was a valid remedy to ensure that "only qualified individuals" hold public office.