By Marivir R. Montebon
The issue of her ouster is due process. Impeachable officials like Sereno is a matter meant for Congress to handle through a long and careful process. Only in the Philippines, and for the first time, that a Chief Justice was being easily removed from office by quo warranto.
New York – With the ouster of Philippine Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, there is only short thing I wanted to point out: everything seems to happen because of partisan politics in the Philippines. There is no more context and meaning to human rights and due process in government institutions in the Philippines these days.
The issue on the ouster of Chief Justice Sereno is one of due process. Impeachable officials like her or the Chief Executive is a matter meant to be deliberated and decided upon by the Lower House and Senate through a long and careful undertaking.
Only in the Philippines, and for the first time, that a Chief Justice is being easily removed from office by quo warranto. And why? This was about an ugly, shallow, selfish issue on politicking. Sereno is critical of President Duterte.
The rule of law and due process is guaranteed in the Constitution. What happened was the eight Justices of the Philippine Supreme Court was a clear act of subversion of the Constitution. How can people trust the judiciary when the Justices themselves subvert due process?
Justice Antonio Carpio, one of the six justices who voted against the quo warranto decision of the Supreme Court was quoted by CNN Philippines that “No court, not even this Court, can assume the exclusive mandate of Congress to remove impeachable officers from office” in a 25-page dissenting opinion.
Sereno was found to not have submitted her statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN) before her appointment as Chief Justice by former Pres. Benigno Aquino in 2012. This prompted the government’s Solicitor General Jose Calida to file a quo warranto petition, a legal proceeding where an individual’s right to hold office is challenged.
Calida petitioned the Supreme Court to void Sereno’s appointment as chief justice over her alleged failure to file SALNs for 10 years, before she applied for the Chief Justice post in 2012.
Justice Carpio stated further: “Since the repeated failure to file the SALN constitutes culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust, it is immaterial if the failure to file the SALN is committed before appointment to an impeachable office. However, it is up to Congress to determine if the culpable violation of the Constitution or betrayal of public trust, committed before appointment as an impeachable officer, warrants removal from office.”
So the question is why the hastening of the decision? Is it because Sereno is critical of Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign that has caused tens of thousands of arbitrary killings?
What happened to Sereno is disturbing and has a chilling effect on us here, even though we are so far away from the Philippines.
A Manhattan-based lawyer, Lara Gregory, Esq. sheds light into this case with her legal opinion: “At the heart of any judicial system, whether in the Philippines or in the United States, is fairness. The underlying principle that assures trust in the judicial process is that when one is facing the courts, the process will be fair. If the ones hearing and judging the case, which in this case are the Supreme Court justices, are the same individuals testifying against the person subject of the proceedings, it casts a doubt on the fairness of the proceedings. Indeed, the reason this strikes fear and stirs anger in the hearts of everyone, is the palpable lack of fairness and the seeming inability of the justices to ensure that for the purpose of ensuring the fairness of the proceedings to Chief Justice Sereno, those who testified against her should not take part in the decision to remove her.”
Gregory is admitted to law practice in New York and in the Philippines.
Meanwhile, a recent statement by the LA-based Filipino American Human Rights Alliance (FAHRA) said that these are dark days of democracy in the Philippines.
“We vow not to ignore the call for truth and due process of law. We cannot afford to allow dictatorship to rule the land once again,” said FAHRA.
Spokesperson Ago Pedalizo revealed that rallies will be done in the cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Long Beach, and La Habra. “We choose not to be silent and complicit,” Pedalizo said on behalf of FAHRA.