MANILA - The Supreme Court (SC), in its historic ruling ousting Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno for unlawfully holding the top judicial post, refuted Sereno’s insinuation and some of her supporters’ allegation that President Rodrigo Duterte is behind the Office of the Solicitor General’s ouster case against her.
Duterte had openly called for Sereno's removal from the court, calling her an "enemy" after they clashed over his bloody war on drugs and alleged abuse of power.
The top magistrate's expulsion came after Solicitor General Jose Calida -- a Duterte appointee -- argued that Sereno was not qualified for her position for failing to file a substantial number of her Statements of Assets and Liabilities and Net worth (SALNs) in previous years, which she categorically denied.
The high court addressed the issue in its 153-page decision, penned by Associate Justice Tijam. The high court stressed it decides “based on the merits of a case” and its justices “are beholden to no one” except to the people.
The high court explained that it has been harsh on Solicitor General Jose Calida at times, such as in the case against government’s war on drugs where Calida and the OSG were “rebuked” for its plea to reverse an order for the production of pertinent documents and records pertaining to the anti-illegal drugs campaign.
Insinuations that the high court and its magistrates are "toeing the line of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte in entertaining the quo warranto petition must be struck for being unfounded and for sowing seeds of mistrust and discordance between the Court (SC) and the public,” the ruling stated.
Below is an excerpt of the decision:
“In the same vein, insinuations that the Justices of the Supreme Court are towing the line of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte in entertaining the quo warranto petition must be struck for being unfounded and for sowing seeds of mistrust and discordance between the Court and the public. The Members of the Court are beholden to no one, except to the sovereign Filipino people who ordained and promulgated the Constitution. It is thus inappropriate to misrepresent that the Solicitor General who has supposedly met consistent litigation success before the Supreme Court shall likewise automatically and positively be received in the present quo warranto action.
"That the Court spares the Solicitor General the rod is easily dispelled by the Court's firm orders in G.R. Nos. 234359 and 234484 concerning alleged extra legal killings - a case directly concerning the actuations of the executive department - to provide the Court with documents relative to the Oplan Tokhang operations and by a uninamous vote, rebuked the Solicitor General's plea for reconsideration. Suffice to say that the Court decides based on the merits of a case and not on the actors or the supposed benefactors involved.”
In ordering Sereno’s ouster, the SC said it found her “ineligible" to hold the Chief Justice post "for lack of integrity on account of her failure to file a substantial number of SALNs and also, her failure to submit the required SALNs to the JBC during her application for the position.”
“[O]ne of the Constitutional duties of a public officer is to submit a declaration under oath of his or her assets, liabilities, and net worth upon assumption of office and as often thereafter as may be required by law. When the Constitution and the law exact obedience, public officers must comply and not offer excuses,” the decision stressed.
"When a public officer is unable or unwilling to comply, he or she must not assume office in the first place, or if already holding one, he or she must vacate that public office because it is the correct and honorable thing to do,” it added.
The ousted top magistrate will appeal the decision to sack her, spokesman Jojo Lacanilao said Sunday.
Legal experts, including some Supreme Court justices, have argued that Sereno's sacking is a violation of the constitution, which says a justice can only be removed through impeachment in Congress.
In opinions released Saturday, dissenting justice Marvic Leonen called the move "a legal abomination" while fellow justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa said, "this case marks the time when the Court commits seppuku (ritual suicide) - without honor".
Pacifico Agabin, an expert in constitutional law at the University of the Philippines College of Law, told Agence France-Presse that Sereno's appeal was unlikely to succeed, saying: "I don't think
anyone of the justices will have a change of mind".
-- With a report from Agence France-Presse