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: firstname.lastname@example.org