MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 21 May) – Opinions favoring the Supreme Court decision on the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida against ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has been marked by at least three faults: (1) negation of the Constitution as the highest law of the land, (2) resort to verbal acrobatics to twist the meaning of what is otherwise obvious in the provisions [of the Charter] relating to how certain public officials, including the Chief Justice, may be removed from office, and (3) ignoring the principle of check and balance among the three branches of government.
One need not be a lawyer to understand the supremacy of the Constitution over all other laws. Yet, in a brazen display of self-imposed ignorance dictated by the desire for the blood of a fellow magistrate, eight associate justices would have us believe that quo warranto, which is not even a law but a mere procedural rule under the Rules of Court, can prevail over the Constitution.
However, Article XI Section 2 of the Constitution provides for impeachment as the only means to remove the President, Vice President, Justices of the SC, Commissioners of the three Constitutional Commissions [Civil Service Commission, Commission on Elections, Commission on Audit], and the Ombudsman. The process of impeachment starts at the House of Representatives and ends at the Senate which either acquits or convicts the impeached official.
Defenders of the SC decision claimed that there are no words of exclusivity in as far as impeachment is concerned. They argued that the word “may” in Article XI Section 2 of the Constitution means that impeachable officials can be removed through other ways. However, they omitted the second sentence of the same proviso which states, “All other public officers and employees may be removed from office as provided by law, but not by impeachment.”
Logic tells us that the phrase “all other public officers and employees” implies the exclusivity of impeachment. It tells us that quo warranto applies to public officers and employees other than the impeachable officials.
Further, in “UCPB General Insurance Company Inc. v. Hughes Electronics Corporation, the SC says that the word “may” is “not mandatory but discretionary. It is an auxiliary verb indicating liberty, opportunity, permission and possibility.” In the case of impeachment, such liberty, opportunity, etc. can only be had if and when an impeachment complaint is filed in Congress. It is discretionary on the part of Congress, the body tasked to act on impeachment complaints, because it may or may not entertain them.
Adieu, check and balance
Note that the bases for the quo warranto petition against Sereno were her failure to file her statement of assets, liabilities and net worth for several years, alleged abuse of power and other accusations that are not even grounds for impeachment. Perhaps this is why Malacañang opted to venture into the quo warranto thing after realizing that impeachment is a long shot.
Impeachment aims to ensure that public officials like the SC justices can perform their functions free from pressure and harassment in case their decisions don’t sit well with others. This is why the Constitution provides for a process that is tedious and requires serious grounds, to wit, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.
But the SC, by entertaining Calida’s petition, has usurped the powers of Congress and legitimized to some extent the increasing efforts by President Duterte to reinstate strongman rule. This he wishes to accomplish by doing away with the principle of check and balance among the three branches of government. By kowtowing to the whim of the executive the SC, the supposed last bastion of democracy, has surrendered its soul before the altar of despotism.
Why, the associate justices who had shown bias against Sereno did not even care to observe delicadeza by refusing to inhibit themselves from the quo warranto proceeding. This could be worse than the sight of that martial law era Chief Justice who loved to hold the umbrella for former first lady Imelda Marcos. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)