TURNING POINT: A Coup d’etat in May

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 15 May) – May 11, 2018 will go down in history as a day of infamy in the country’s judiciary.

On this day, the Supreme Court decided 8-6 to remove its own Chief Justice on a quo warranto petition filed by the Solicitor General of the government of the Republic of the Philippines.

We may recall that 9 out of the 14 sitting justices of the Supreme Court joined last March the detractors of CJ Sereno in demanding her resignation. Thus, in deciding on 11 May 2018, to remove the Chief Magistrate from her post, the SC cannot be said to be impartial and objective, a basic requirement in dispensing justice.

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A judge should not only be presumed independent, impartial and objective to decide on a case but in actual behavior must be, so as not to derail due process. If from the start the majority of the justices were already after her removal by resignation, and the quo warranto petition before them was about her removal, too, then their independence, impartiality and objectivity were tainted if not compromised. This notwithstanding, they tried and decided to remove her. Due process was, thus,  blatantly trampled upon by the very authority that is supposed to protect and uphold it. It was a historic miscarriage of justice.

The said justices could have volunteered to inhibit themselves so that the integrity of the court could not be held suspect. Considering the power politic preceding the event, it should have been the best thing to do.

It is everybody’s knowledge that the President was mad at the Chief Magistrate when she insinuated that the Palace was behind  SG Calida’s filing of the quo warranto petition against her. The  furious President  thereupon declared  war  on the Chief Magistrate and vowed to take steps to remove her.

PRRD minced no words in expressing his anger sayings: “Ikaw Sereno, sinabi ko na sa ‘yo hindi ako nakialam (I’m telling you, Sereno, that I didn’t meddle). If you are insisting, then count me in. Count me in and I will egg Calida to do his best. Ako na mismo ang maglakad, [ka]kalaban sa’yo (I will be the one to do it, I’ll fight you,)”

What was really the beef of the President with Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno?

We may be reminded that during the witch hunting that accompanied the bloody  campaign against illegal drugs, the President pinpointed  some judges implicated in the commerce of illegal drugs.

CJ Sereno was quick to react and declared, in behalf of the Supreme Court, that the Court is independent from the other branches of government and ought to be left alone, following its procedures, in determining the guilt or innocence of any accused judges. This belligerent stand in an attempt to protect the independence of the judiciary infuriated the ball-wrecking CEO of the land and everything went downhill thereafter.

The battles were waged and raged in all fronts. The impeachment proceeding against the Chief Justice was initiated thereupon. Before it can be completed, the Solicitor General  filled the quo warranto petition against her. Along the way, some group within and outside the court worked to force her resignation.

Valid or not the grounds for her impeachment, her accusers can proceed in pursuing it because it is the constitutional remedy to remove her from office. The Impeachment Court decides her guilt or innocence. The quo warranto proceeding, on the other hand, came in like a coup initiated by the Executive Department. It’s foul, a blow below the belt, a no-no in a constitutional democracy. It’s violative of the fundamental law of the land.

Come to think also of it, the Solicitor General, who is under the command of the President, is the principal law officer and legal defender of the Republic of the Philippines. His primary duty is to represent the government, its agencies and instrumentalities, its officials and agents in any litigation, proceeding and investigation before the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals.

Why then would the legal defender of the government launch the offensive of filing a petition to remove the government’s very own Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?

Whatever, the President got what he wanted; his archenemy was booted out from the highest justice tribunal of the land.

The Supreme Court will never be the same again. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)