Tsinoy Beats and Bytes

Our much beleaguered Philippines

May 11, 2018 was truly a sad day. The Supreme Court allowed the rule of men to prevail over the rule of law. In a vote of 8-6, the nation’s highest court ousted Ma. Lourdes Sereno as Chief Justice.
This historic decision, granting the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida, will have far-reaching and wide-ranging adverse effects. Deans of law schools wonder how they will now teach the impeachment provision after the blatant disregard and misinterpretation of the Constitution by no less than the Supreme Court.
The decision sets a bad precedent in removing security of tenure of all impeachable officials. Such extrajudicial process to oust Sereno could beset other justices and endanger judicial independence. The separation of powers and system of checks and balances among the three branches of government have been compromised; the Senate’s sole prerogative to convict an accused through impeachment has been co-opted. More important, among us anticrime nongovernment organizations, the basic trust in our court system and the rules of court has all but gone down the drain. If they can illegally remove a sitting Chief Justice, what can ordinary victims expect from our courts?
However, the 8-6 vote in fact vindicated Sereno. Of the eight were six justices who blatantly and despicably bypassed all rules of decency and fair play by standing as her accuser and judge at the same time, something totally against the rules of court.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Free Legal Assistance Group and several lawyers’ groups agree completely with Justice Marivic Leonen and Dean Maria Soledad Derequito-Mawis of Lyceum College of Law that the quo warranto petition should have been dismissed outright and the Supreme Court should never have assumed jurisdiction over it.
First, the quo warranto does not apply to officials who should be removed only by impeachment. Second, the quo warranto has a prescriptive period of one year after appointment. In the case of Sereno, the period had long passed. Sadly, the Supreme Court suddenly came up with the creative position of reckoning prescriptive period to be one year from the day of discovery, something which was never in the provision of the law.
Mawis is one of 130 law school deans and professors who signed a manifesto that said the Chief Justice can only be removed via impeachment. Imagine, the opinion of 130 law deans and professors was ignored by eight justices.
The signatories of the manifesto include such luminaries as Mawis, former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila Graduate School of Law Dean and retired Court of Appeals Justice Hector Hofileña, De La Salle College of Law Dean Jose Manuel Diokno, Adamson College of Law Dean Anna Maria Abad, Far Eastern University Institute of Law Dean Melencio Sta. Maria and Ateneo de Davao University College of Law Dean Manuel Quibod. Former University of the Philippines College of Law Dean Pacifico Agabin, former Ateneo School of Government Dean Tony Laviña, PLM College of Law Dean Marisol Anenias, University of San Agustin College of Law Dean Jose Mari Tirol, and law deans and professors from Metro Manila and the cities of Baguio, Butuan, Cotabato and Davao also signed the manifesto.
According to the signatories, they have been taught in law school that the Constitution provides only one means to remove a sitting Chief Justice and that is by impeachment by the House of Representatives and conviction after trial in the Senate.
The House has finished the hearing and was ready to forward the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Sadly, both the House members and the Supreme Court justices, motivated by personal ill will and political pressure, realize that the Senate may not impeach Sereno; hence, the creative quo warranto petition.
As former Rep. Neri Colemansares said, “Two and a half branches of government colluded to oust Sereno.”
In praise of CJ Sereno
A law practitioner echoed what anticrime NGOs have experienced with the courts under Sereno’s helm as Chief Justice. Lawyer Agnes Maranan, senior partner at Rivera Santos & Maranan Law Offices, blamed former President Benigno S. Aquino for appointing the most junior Justice to the highest judicial position, which, she said was an insult to the senior members of the Court and repugnant to practitioners.
However, she emphasized that once the decision has been made, you live with it, and hope for the best.
We excerpt some of her praises here.
She said that with other trial practitioners, they were “pleasantly surprised when CJ Sereno exceeded expectations and proved worthy of the appointment.
“Under her leadership, every courtroom has a computer and printer, and open court orders are dictated immediately after a hearing, with all lawyers able (and required) to get their copies of the orders within minutes after your hearing ends.
“The strict rules on pre-trial, judicial affidavits, morning and afternoon hearings, the concept of continuous and speedy trial have been in the rules books but were strictly enforced only under CJ Sereno. These were CJ Sereno’s changes which I personally witnessed,” Maranan said.
For my part, I can honestly say that victims of crime who received assistance from our anticrime NGO experienced the same. Not only did we bury the meaningful reforms initiated by Sereno, we also ignominiously buried the last vestige of trust we reposed in the courts.
Another day
I was at the Jericho March before 7 a.m. in front of the Supreme Court on May 11. I was truly saddened upon hearing the decision, which I anticipated but had continued to hope the Justices would do what is right. Unfortunately, the eight inJustices overruled the six Justices.
True to her name, in all her interviews after her ouster, Sereno was calm and serene. She said, “The decision was unjust but I calmly accepted that I was in the center of God’s will and something good will come out of this, if the SC will no longer be my platform, God has a purpose.” How true, just as I told her, nothing happens that’s not meant to happen. It may be difficult to fathom now, but there’s something more meaningful in store.
Her own son, Joren, echoed the same: “Today, she has that same smile. It is the smile of a life well-lived, of loving sacrifice, and one of determination that the sun shines behind dim, cloudy skies, and that the clouds part eventually…After every sacrifice, she was called on to do greater and greater things. To give more. To smile more.”
Sereno herself said tomorrow is another day. De La Salle University’s statement, signed by its president Bro. Jose Mari Jimenez, said it even more aptly: “We mourn but not alone. May our mourning give way to solidarity and our solidarity give birth to hope. Let us work tirelessly to raise up men and women who can be principled and virtuous in their service of others. Let us march arm-in-arm for our children so they can live in a society where their fundamentals rights are respected. Let us fight to expose all attempts at concentrating power and in muting legitimate opposition. And even if others will not, let us take this opportunity to stand by the side of every Filipino who cherishes democracy. May our choices show forth the proud Filipinos that we are – excellent and noble and honorable and brave.”
The Coalition for Justice now rests its hope on one half branch of the government, the Senate, to question the Supreme Court why they preempted the Senate’s right to impeach the Chief Justice.
It is not farfetched to feel the threat that Vice President Leni Robredo will be next because last May 11, on the other side of our Jericho March barricade, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s paid minions were there. They did not even hide their identity. They showed that they were only too happy to have the decent Sereno removed as Chief Justice. When the ouster was announced, they chanted “Du Ter Te,” making it easy to draw conclusions on the reason for the haste in deciding the quo warranto petition. The original date of May 20 was advanced to May 11, three days before the legislature resumes its session.
We are a greatly beleaguered nation. The increasing apprehension is that never has it been so greatly beleaguered as it is now.