Con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion

The Philippine Star - - OPINION -

The Supreme Court is the court of last re­sort, the high­est court in the coun­try and at the top rung of the Ju­di­cial Branch which is a sep­a­rate and in­de­pen­dent branch of the gov­ern­ment. Its de­ci­sions which have al­ready be­come fi­nal are con­sid­ered part of the law of the land and must there­fore be strictly obeyed and fol­lowed. For this rea­son, it is ex­pected to ren­der de­ci­sions af­ter ju­di­ciously and pru­dently study­ing all the issues in­volved in the cases brought be­fore it so that all con­tro­ver­sies sur­round­ing those cases will be fully re­solved. In other words, its de­ci­sions should be just fair, eq­ui­table and ac­cord­ing to law so that it will no longer be con­tro­ver­sial and ques­tion­able.

Un­for­tu­nately, this is not what hap­pened in the case of the “Repub­lic of the Philip­pines vs. Maria Lour­des P.A. Sereno” (G.R. No. 237428, May 11, 2018), the in­cum­bent Chief Jus­tice, which has even gen­er­ated more con­tro­ver­sies. This case is a Pe­ti­tion for Quo War­ranto filed by the Solic­i­tor Gen­eral pray­ing that Sereno be de­clared “in­el­i­gi­ble to hold the high­est post in the Ju­di­ciary for fail­ing to reg­u­larly dis­close her as­sets, li­a­bil­i­ties and net worth (SALN) as a mem­ber of the ca­reer ser­vice prior to her ap­point­ment as an As­so­ciate Jus­tice and later as Chief Jus­tice of the Supreme Court, in vi­o­la­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion, the Anti Graft Law, and the Code of Con­duct and Eth­i­cal Stan­dards for Pub­lic Of­fi­cials and Em­ploy­ees.” In this case the Repub­lic seeks the nul­li­fi­ca­tion of Sereno’s ap­point­ment for her al­leged fail­ure to file the re­quired SALNs and to sub­mit the same to the Ju­di­cial and Bar Coun­cil which show that she is not pos­sessed of “proven in­tegrity” de­manded of ev­ery as­pi­rant to the Ju­di­ciary.

Un­doubt­edly, the SC has orig­i­nal ju­ris­dic­tion over pe­ti­tions for Quo War­ranto among oth­ers, pur­suant to Sec­tion 5, Ar­ti­cle VIII of the Con­sti­tu­tion. Quo War­ranto is an ac­tion against a “per­son who usurps, in­trudes into or un­law­fully holds or ex­er­cises a pub­lic of­fice, po­si­tion or fran­chise, or against a pub­lic of­fi­cer who does or suf­fers an act, which by pro­vi­sion of law, con­sti­tutes a ground for for­fei­ture of his of­fice” (Sec­tion 1, Rule 66, Re­vised Rules of Court of the Philip­pines).

As found by the SC, Sereno filed only 11 SALNs in her 20-year gov­ern­ment ser­vice in UP. No SALNs were filed from 2003 to 2006 when she was em­ployed as le­gal coun­sel for the Repub­lic. Nei­ther was there a SALN filed when she re­signed from UP Col­lege of Law as of June 1, 2006 and when she sup­pos­edly re-en­tered gov­ern­ment ser­vice as of Aug. 16, 2010.

Based on these find­ings, the SC granted the pe­ti­tion of the Repub­lic. The SC sus­tained the con­tention of the Repub­lic that Sereno’s “fail­ure to sub­mit her SALNs as re­quired by the JBC dis­qual­i­fies her, at the out­set, from be­ing a can­di­date for the po­si­tion of Chief Jus­tice for lack of proven in­tegrity. So she has no right to hold of­fice and may there­fore be ousted via quo war­ranto.

The SC ruled that “the lan­guage of Sec­tion 2, Ar­ti­cle XI of the Con­sti­tu­tion does not fore­close a quo war­ranto ac­tion against im­peach­able of­fi­cers be­cause said pro­vi­sion uses the per­mis­sive term “may” which is “in­dica­tive of… a mere op­tion and so it ad­mits of an al­ter­na­tive mode of ef­fect­ing the re­moval.“The SC said that the use of the per­mis­sive term may de­notes dis­cre­tion and can­not be con­strued as hav­ing a manda­tory ef­fect be­cause an op­tion to re­move by im­peach­ment ad­mits of an al­ter­na­tive mode of ef­fect­ing the re­moval. In sup­port of this con­clu­sion, the court cited the well set­tled rule in le­gal hermeneu­tics that “if the lan­guage un­der con­sid­er­a­tion is plain,” there is no need to in­ter­pret it and “nei­ther is it nec­es­sary nor per­mis­si­ble to re­sort to ex­trin­sic aids, like the records of the con­sti­tu­tional con­ven­tion for its in­ter­pre­ta­tion (Peo­ple vs. Amigo. 322 Phil. 40).

So, as far as the fore­go­ing issues about the grounds and the mode of re­mov­ing Sereno are con­cerned, the SC ap­pears to have ex­ten­sively and con­vinc­ingly re­solved the con­tro­ver­sial issues in this case. De­spite such rul­ing how­ever, con­tro­ver­sies and ques­tions about the cor­rect­ness of the rul­ing still rage and con­tinue un­abated.

And this is be­cause of an­other pro­vi­sion of the law ap­pli­ca­ble to this case which the SC still ex­ten­sively dis­cussed and in­ter­preted in its 153-page de­ci­sion. Said pro­vi­sion is also quite clear and there­fore need no fur­ther in­ter­pre­ta­tion based on ex­ist­ing jurispru­dence that it cited here (Pp vs, Amigo, supra). And this is Sec­tion 11 of Rule 66 of the Re­vised Rules of Court re­gard­ing the pe­riod for fil­ing the Pe­ti­tion for Quo War­ranto. Said rule pro­vides that: “Noth­ing con­tained in this Rule shall be con­strued to au­tho­rize an ac­tion against a pub­lic of­fi­cer or em­ployee for his ouster from of­fice un­less the same be com­menced within one (1) year af­ter the cause of such ouster arose.” In this case, as found by the SC it­self, the cause of Sereno’s ouster arose when she was ap­pointed as As­so­ciate Jus­tice of the SC in 2010 then as Chief Jus­tice on Aug. 24, 2012, with­out fil­ing her SALN. There­fore, the Pe­ti­tion for Quo War­ranto should have been filed on or be­fore Aug. 24, 2013. In this case how­ever the Pe­ti­tion was filed only this year 2018 or al­most six years from the time the cause of such ouster arose. It is there­fore quite clear and undis­putable that the Pe­ti­tion has been filed out of time. So the SC should have dis­missed the pe­ti­tion for be­ing filed out of time.

And so, the con­tro­ver­sies are in­evitable and will not die down. * * * Email: at­tyjos­esi­son@gmail.com

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