Search for chief justice begins
The search for a new chief justice began on Tuesday after the Supreme Court upheld the expulsion of Maria Lourdes Sereno as the Philippines’ top judge, in a final ruling that critics warned was unconstitutional and threatened judicial independence and the country’s fragile democracy.
Under Section 4, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution, President Rodrigo Duterte has 90 days to appoint a replacement for Sereno.
Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te said the justices voted 8-6 to uphold their May 11 decision to oust Sereno from the top job in the judiciary.
“The Supreme Court denied with finality [Sereno’s] motion for reconsideration,” Te told reporters.
Two court insiders said the justices had directed an entry of judgment to put the case to rest and prevent further motions from being brought.
The President’s top legal defender, Solicitor General Jose Calida, had asked the court to remove Sereno for allegedly failing to file some of her past financial disclosures — called statements of assets, liabilities and net worth — a charge that she had denied.
Te said all the 14 justices who participated in the deliberations on Calida’s quo warranto petition maintained their original votes.
Associate Justice Noel Tijam, who wrote the ruling for the majority, was joined by Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Samuel Martires, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza, Andres Reyes Jr. and Alexander Gesmundo.
Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Marvic Leonen, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Mariano del Castillo, Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa voted against Calida’s petition.
The ruling did not come as a surprise for Sereno, who had accused her eight former colleagues on the tribunal of prejudging the case brought by Calida.
“We were not surprised by the final result of the Supreme Court’s decision, but we remain convinced that the decision is unjust and will be questioned by the people for a long time to come,” said Jojo Lacanilao, a spokesperson for Sereno.
Asked about Sereno’s immediate plans, Lacanilao said the former Chief Justice would vacate her office but continue to be a “voice for the people.”
“To me, this is a triumph of justice,” Calida told reporters.
“The Supreme Court ruled in our favor to uphold the majesty of the law that no one is above the law even if you are the Chief Justice,” he said.
The President’s allies said the ruling should be respected, but critics deplored it, with one opposition group—Tindig Pilipinas (Rise, Philippines)—labeling the tribunal as a “supremely erroneous court” and threatening to file impeachment complaints against the eight justices who voted to grant the government’s quo warranto petition.
But presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the Supreme Court’s decision was now final and executory, bringing closure to the controversy.
“Her days as Chief Justice [are] now over,” Roque told reporters in Davao City, the President’s hometown.
“What President Duterte asks is that the Filipino people unite once more,” he said.
The President, he said, was waiting for the list of nominees for chief justice from the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), the body that vets candidates for positions in the judiciary.
Impeachment bid mooted
Sereno’s expulsion cut short a separate congressional impeachment attempt against her.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said the Supreme Court’s final ruling had mooted the impeachment bid.
He said the tribunal’s ruling should be respected.
“Our Constitution mandates the Supreme Court to be the final arbiter of legal and constitutional questions. Let us respect its decision,” Alvarez said.
Sereno was the Philippines’ first female Chief Justice and the first to be forced out through a government petition.
Her predecessor, Renato Corona, was impeached by the House in 2011 for failing to accurately disclose his bank accounts and properties and became the first Chief Justice to be convicted by the Senate after a trial in 2012.
Sereno earned the President’s ire after she disagreed with his efforts to take action against judges linked to illegal drugs in 2016, saying the Supreme Court should be the one to punish erring officials of the judiciary. —With reports from Julie M. Aurelio, Jerome Aning, Allan Nawal and AP
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