Sereno appeals ouster from Supreme Court

Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 30 2018 04:23 PM | Updated as of May 30 2018 09:19 PM

Ousted Supreme Court Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno speaks at a press briefing in Manila May 11, 2018. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATE) - Ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno urged her colleagues at the Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday to reverse their ruling that removed her from office, and order her reinstatement to the top judicial post.

Eight magistrates voted to oust Sereno namely, Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza, Samuel Martires, Andres Reyes, Jr., Alexander Gesmundo, and Noel Tijam, the author of the 153-page landmark decision. 

Six dissented namely, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco, Jr., Mariano Del Castillo, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Marvic Leonen, and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa. 

The high court, in granting the petition filed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), found Sereno “guilty of unlawfully holding and exercising the Office of the Chief Justice,” for failure to file Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALNs) for eleven years during her 20-year stint at the University of the Philippines College of Law, and failure to submit to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) the required 10-year SALNs upon her application for Chief Justice in July 2012. 

Sereno’s lawyers, led by Justin Mendoza and Jayson Aguilar, filed her 205-page motion for reconsideration at 4 pm, an hour before the close of office hours and beating the May 30 deadline under the rules, or 15 days upon receipt of notice. Her camp received the 153-page decision on May 15. 

Sereno started her motion by arguing that the six magistrates in the majority should recuse from the case. She then proceeded to reiterate her argument that she may only be removed through impeachment proceedings. 

The decision is “null and void,” and made in violation of her right to due process, she explained. 

“And the right thing to do, as dictated by the respondent’s (Sereno’s) fundamental right to due process, is to disqualify the six Honorable Justices who had lost the impartiality to hear and decide this case; and to reverse the decision of 11 May 2018, thereby reaffirming its adherence to the rule enunciated in Section 2, Article XI of the Constitution — as it was intended by the framers, understood by the people, and implemented consistently by this Honorable Court in its past decisions — that impeachable officials like the Chief Justice can be removed only by impeachment, and not by any other means,” Sereno’s MR stated.

The magistrates she wants to inhibit from the case are Associate Justices De Castro, Peralta, Bersamin, Jardeleza, Martires, and Tijam. These justices testified in her impeachment hearings at the House of Representatives Justice Committee.

“The disqualification of Associate Justices De Castro, Peralta, Jardeleza, Tijam, Bersamin, and Martires is mandatory, grounded on actual bias and not mere participation in the hearings held by the House Committee on Justice,” Sereno said.

In its decision, the high court said it junked Sereno’s inhibition plea “absent strong and compelling evidence establishing actual bias and partiality on the part of the Justices whose recusal was sought.” 

“Mere conjectures and speculations cannot justify the inhibition of a Judge or Justice from a judicial matter,” the SC said. 

Sereno argued that the high court should have exercised “judicial restraint” in her case “to avoid the possibility of a constitutional crisis.”

“In light of recent events, it is not speculative that a constitutional crisis is probable, if not yet existing. This is evidenced by the Senate Resolution ‘respectfully urging’ the Court to review its decision, describing the grant of the quo warranto petition as a ‘dangerous precedent that transgresses the exclusive powers of the legislative branch to initiate, try, and decide all cases of impeachment,’signed by fourteen senators from both the majority and minority blocs.”

She also reiterated her earlier argument that the high court cannot annul the act of the JBC and the President, and stressed the issue of her integrity is a “political question” not subject to the SC’s review. 

Sereno further argued that allowing the SC to determine the fate of individual justices “would expose each to the pressures of conformity at the risk of removal.” 

She also called “extraneous matters” issues cited in the SC decision as “corroborative evidence” in its finding of guilt against her: 

a) Sereno purportedly had no permit from U.P. to engage in limited practice of profession while in government service, yet she was engaged in private practice as shown in her Personal Data Sheet (PDS) and admitted in her Ad Cautelam Comment; 

b) Sereno said that after her resignation from U.P. in 2006, she was engaged, full time, in private practice. However, in her PDS, it was stated that she was engaged as counsel by the government in the PIATCO cases from 1994 up to 2009; 

c) Sereno’s PDS shows that she was Deputy Commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights, only to be later disclaimed by her during the Oral Argument stating that it was only a functional title; and 

d) Sereno purportedly committed tax fraud when she failed to truthfully declare her income tax. 

The high court is still in recess, and will resume its en banc sessions on June 5.