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CONSTITUTIONAL POWER

Lawyers say only Congress can remove impeachable officials

/ 07:25 AM May 16, 2018

SC PROTEST Members of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers condemn the attacks on judicial independence on Tuesday as they stage a picket outside the Supreme Court building in Manila. —EARVIN PERIAS

Legal groups called on lawmakers on Tuesday to defend their exclusive constitutional power to prosecute and try impeachable officials that they said was usurped by Supreme Court justices who booted out the country’s Chief Justice last week.

Wearing black crapes, around 30 lawyers from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) staged a picket outside the heavily guarded Supreme Court building in Manila, carrying a streamer that read, “We dissent.”

A protester held up the scales of justice, with a mock sword piercing her white gown.

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Violation of Constitution

The protesters said the Supreme Court’s 8-6 vote last Friday to grant Solicitor General Jose Calida’s quo warranto petition to remove Maria Lourdes Sereno as Chief Justice for failure to file statements of assets, liabilities and net worth violated the Constitution.

They said the vote robbed the House of Representatives and the Senate of their constitutional power to impeach and try officials like Sereno and sparked legal dilemmas.

The ruling “practically castrated the [House] by taking its power to impeach. Now it’s a few unelected justices who are deciding which impeachable officials should be removed,” said former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares.

NUPL secretary general Ephraim Cortez said Sereno’s ouster through a quo warranto petition was “not only legally erroneous and unconstitutional” but also “practically decapitated the judiciary.”

The NUPL said in a statement that it would organize protest actions throughout the country as part of its “duty to protect the rule of law.”

“Our reason for being is put to question. We are being forced to relearn or unlearn what we studied or taught in law school. The decision revolts against norms we hold dear,” it said.

The protesters insisted that Sereno should have been allowed to be put through the impeachment process, the only means prescribed by the Constitution for removing constitutional officials from office.

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Collision course

Jose Manuel Diokno, chair of FLAG, said Calida’s petition set the judiciary on a collision course with the House and the Senate. It preempted months of impeachment actions against Sereno in the House, he said.

The House was set to vote on impeachment charges accusing Sereno of violating the Constitution and betraying public trust when the ruling came down, short-circuiting the process that President Duterte had asked his allies in Congress to expedite.

But as Sereno has said that she will appeal the ruling, the House has deferred action on the justice committee recommendation to impeach her until the Supreme Court can hand down a final decision.

Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said on Tuesday that he had excluded the impeachment case from the agenda of the rules committee that he headed.

If the Supreme Court sustains its May 11 ruling, the House will dismiss the impeachment case, as it will have become moot, he said.

Many of the senators oppose the ruling, but Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III maintains that without charges being brought by the House, the Senate cannot proceed as an impeachment court.

What the Senate can do is adopt a resolution expressing its opposition to the ruling, Pimentel told reporters on Tuesday. —With reports from Leila B. Salaverria, Vince F. Nonato and AP

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TAGS: Flag, Jose Calida, Maria Lourdes Sereno, NUPL, quo warranto petition, Sereno impeachment, Supreme Court
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