SC justices to decide Sereno’s fate in May
Justices of the Supreme Court will spend part of their “writing break” this summer deciding the fate of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, according to two court insiders.
One of the sources said the justices agreed during their full-court session in Baguio City on Tuesday to hold a special session on May 17 to vote on the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida against Sereno.
At the launch of the Supreme Court’s mobile phone app earlier on Thursday, however, acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio told reporters the justices would decide the quo warranto case in May, but did not give a date.
“We hope to finish it by end of the month, by next month we should be able to decide it,” Carpio said.
The petition to invalidate Sereno’s 2012 appointment as the country’s top judge is controversial, as a challenge to legitimacy is not a method of removing a constitutional officer from office, according to various legal groups.
The Constitution states that the Chief Justice may be removed from office by impeachment, the process for which the allies of President Duterte have already mounted in the House of Representatives against Sereno.
The President has asked his congressional allies to expedite the process, and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has committed the House to take action when Congress returns on May 14.
That will be three days ahead of the Supreme Court special session, although a vote by the plenary to decide whether to impeach Sereno is not expected to be called before the justices sit to vote on Calida’s petition.
The 15-member Supreme Court traditionally goes on a break during May for the justices to write their decisions on the pleadings assigned to them.
“Some of the justices had initially wanted to vote on Calida’s petition on April 24 since it’s the last day of the summer session in Baguio,” the first source told the Inquirer.
But some of the justices insisted that they needed more time to hand down a decision on the controversial petition, noting that they heard oral arguments only on April 10, the source said.
“There are several [legal] issues that the justices have to consider. Some of them even doubt that a decision may be ready by May 17,” the source added.
Draft ruling finished
A second source said Associate Justice Noel Tijam, who was assigned to write the decision for the court, had already finished his draft ruling.
“Justice Tijam had actually provided a copy of his draft ruling to some of the justices for their initial comments,” the source said.
Tijam, President Duterte’s second appointee to the Supreme Court, hinted during the oral arguments that Sereno should not have been appointed as Chief Justice because of her failure to submit the required number of statements of assets, liabilities and net worth to the Judicial and Bar Council.
Sereno’s camp was alarmed after learning about the planned full-court session on May 17.
“We cannot help but ask why the rush … The quo warranto is an important case which if granted will upend our justice system as we know it. The Supreme Court has not even heard the side of any of the intervenors,” lawyer Josalee Deinla said in a text message to reporters.
Deinla pointed out that the Supreme Court would be in recess throughout May, since it would go on a break from April 25 to June 4.
‘Do the right thing’
Senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Leila de Lima added to the justices’ reading load on Thursday, filing a manifestation appealing to the court to “do the right thing” by dismissing Calida’s petition.
Trillanes, speaking in a news conference at the Senate, said he and De Lima made the manifestation to remind the court that the quo warranto proceedings were unconstitutional, a stance they made during last week’s oral arguments but was simply noted by the court.
He explained that if the quo warranto petition were granted, it would “diminish the power of the Senate,” as under the Constitution the Chief Justice and other impeachable officers could be removed only through impeachment trial in the Senate.
Sen. Sonny Angara, speaking to reporters in Palo, Leyte province, on Thursday, said the Supreme Court could suffer an “institutional damage” if it granted Calida’s petition.
Angara said removing the Chief Justice through a quo warranto petition would make serving on the Supreme Court a popularity contest.
“If your colleagues on the court don’t like you, they can remove you through quo warranto action,” he said.
Several groups of lawyers, led by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, on Wednesday asked the United Nations special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers to investigate the Duterte administration’s attempts to remove Sereno and threats to the lives of lawyers representing critics of the President and families of the victims of his brutal war on drugs.
In a television interview on Thursday, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque played down the lawyers’ action, saying their plea would not amount to much.
“I’d like to stress, they would not get any remedy from that, there could only be declarations,” Roque said.
“Probably the most that they can say is, ‘Yes, this [is] perhaps a threat to judicial independence in the Philippines,’” he added.
Roque said he would write to the United Nations and give it a copy of the resolutions signed by 13 Supreme Court justices asking Sereno to go on indefinite leave, as well as transcripts of the testimonies of the justices against the Chief Justice in the House impeachment hearings to show that the issue was not about institutions but about Sereno.
“This is about the integrity of the Chief Justice that may very well affect the integrity of the institution itself,” Roque said. —WITH REPORTS FROM DONA Z. PAZZIBUGAN, CHRISTINE O. AVENDAÑO, JOEY GABIETA AND LEILA B. SALAVERRIA
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