The supreme fall of justice
An outright desecration of the Constitution by no less than the men and women in robes whose sworn duty is to defend and uphold the fundamental law of the land—this is what the Supreme Court’s decision to oust Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno in an unprecedented manner has brought into our judicial landscape.
Never in our history has the highest court, through the vote of its majority, decided to unseat one of its members. At no time, even by some wild stretch of imagination, did I ever think I would witness a squad of justices maneuvering the downfall of their chief magistrate through an abominable process hiding in a cloak of legality and falsified impartiality. Six of the same justices who had publicly exhibited personal grievances against the Chief Justice and testified at the House of Representatives against her, instead of following the rules of inhibition, ganged up on her and formed the eight-person majority to oust her. The removal from Office of the Chief Justice through a quo warranto (Latin for “by what warrant or authority?”) proceeding is worthy of all condemnation and abhorrence—a move we did not expect from a group of people who are known and presumed to be the best and the brightest in the legal profession.
Section 2, Article 11 of the 1987 Constitution states that:
“The President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Supreme Court, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust. All other public officers and employees may be removed from office as provided by law, but not by impeachment.
It is crystal clear that the Chief Justice, regardless of who appointed him or her, is an impeachable official, therefore ousting from the seat of the chief magistrate should solely be done through a constitutional process of impeachment by the House of Representatives and conviction by the Senate standing as the impeachment court. In spite of the propriety of removing the Chief Justice through quo warranto, this decision by the highest court of the land endures as a grave insult to the Filipino people and to the democratic ideals that we embody.
The means of how these justices ousted CJ Sereno does not just show absolute disregard to the rule of law but also how they are capable of unabashedly exercising arbitrary power. A road less travelled is what they chose; ignored a long-established interpretation of the law, in which everyone pledged adherence to, for the advancement of a strongman’s will to monopolize the distributed powers of the state. In fact, the quo warranto petition filed by the solicitor general should have been dismissed in the first place and not given any consideration for judicial deliberation. It was a waste of time because these justices will not be where they are right now unless they knew that the only way to remove the Chief Justice is through impeachment; no more, no less. Both the text and the context of the Constitution are clear about the removal of members of the Supreme Court through impeachment and no amount of rationalization can hide the obvious.
A move we did not expect from a group of people who are known and presumed to be the best and the brightest in the legal profession
The strongman’s chess piece, otherwise known as the Solicitor General, upon realizing the inherent weakness of the grounds of impeachment crafted in the House of Representatives and the improbability of the ouster through the mode that the Constitution provided, has effectively snitched on for a different medium to seek the Chief Justice’s ouster. A quo warranto petition, as stated under Rule 66 of the Rules of Court, may be filed by the government or an individual against “a person who usurps, intrudes into, or unlawfully holds or exercises a public office, position or franchise.” If we are to look at the constitutionality of CJ Sereno’s appointment, the qualifications of SC Justices, according to the Constitution, are natural-born citizenship, 40 years of age, and 15 years of legal practice. With that being said, the Constitution provides for objective requirements for a person to lawfully be seated as a justice; everything else is discretionary on the part of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC). As a constitutional body, the JBC can craft and adjust its own rules depending on the situation. Submission of statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALNs) are discretionary requirements of the JBC screening that may be relaxed, made stricter, or be removed. However, the constitutional requirements are not flexible, and thus, mandatory. If the president appoints someone who does not fall within at least one constitutional requirement, that will be the time to question its legality, otherwise, all other violations should be brought before the congress.
If indeed the Chief Justice had violated the Constitution, in this case the failure to file all the necessary statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth, then the Supreme Court should have given her the opportunity to undergo the due process determined by the Constitution. An impeachable offense, if present, should have been taken into the chambers of the Congress, the only institution tasked by the Constitution to initiate, conduct, and decide on the impeachment process of impeachable officials such as the Chief Justice. Like all accused persons, the Chief Justice herself deserved a day in court.
The Supreme Court, although enjoys supremacy in many facets of our system, does not have, in any way, a guarantee of its infallibility. If someone thinks that the highest court can never go wrong, it is a mentality that shows outright stupidity. This landmark decision of the Supreme Court is of political nature making it a complete judicial suicide. It did not only wound itself in the process, but it killed the judicial integrity which the people trusted to stay above the divisive partisanship that threatens to put this nation in silence. Collegiality and deference, two strong principles that made the Supreme Court a tough democratic institution, were thrown out of Padre Faura to appease the authority centralized near Mendiola. Lady Justice removed her blindfold of impartiality and stabbed herself with her own sword of punishment.
We have lost the stability and integrity of our judiciary, but the strength and will of the Filipino continues to ignite. Watching our institutions crumbling in the hands of a tyrannical rule should have opened our minds to the fact that silence won’t do anything.
Justice had its supreme fall, but the people, who are the true power of democracy, shall rise and resist.