One of the country’s top universities on Saturday called on the Supreme Court to dismiss the quo warranto petition against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno—one of its graduates—filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida in a bid to remove her from the post.
Sereno can only be removed through impeachment, said Ateneo de Manila University president Father Jose Ramon Villarin, and that her appointment could not be nullified by a quo warranto, a writ or legal action requiring a person to show by what warrant an office or franchise is held, claimed, or exercised.
The Chief Justice, who is on indefinite leave as the petition and a looming impeachment trial in the Senate await resolution, is an economics graduate of Ateneo.
With Sereno’s recent announcement that she has recovered most of her missing Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth, which she had filed as a law professor at the University of the Philippines, Calida’s petition is thus baseless and must be dismissed immediately, her spokesman said Saturday.
“SolGen Calida’s quo warranto petition was based on his claim that CJ Sereno did not file UP SALNs and that she failed to meet the constitutional requirement of proven integrity when she failed to submit her UP SALNs to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC),” said lawyer Josalee Deinla.
“His submission is an admission that his petition is baseless. The recovery of most of the SALNs destroys the SolGen’s main argument that the Chief Justice should be removed from office on ground that she failed to file her SALNs and submit them to the JBC,” Deinla added.
At this point, Villarin said in a statement, “the legal and proper process is impeachment and not quo warranto.”
“We thus categorically call on the Supreme Court to dismiss the quo warranto petition filed against the Chief Justice,” the Ateneo president added.
The high court heard oral arguments last week in Baguio City on a petition filed by Calida to invalidate Sereno’s appointment by then-President Benigno Aquino III, citing her alleged failure to fully disclose her wealth.
But Sereno had already retrieved most of her missing SALN even before the Solicitor General’s submission of the top magistrate’s financial statements to the Supreme Court last March 27.
Deinla said at least 11 of the missing SALNs have been found by the Chief Justice prior to Calida’s retrieval of the SALNs.
Villarin called on the other SC magistrates, including those opposing Sereno, to discern the “damage their actions have inflicted on themselves and on the whole of our democratic society.”
“The University expresses its dismay and disappointment at how vicious and malicious the search for accountability has become,” he said.
“It should alarm us when several justices who will decide on whether the Chief Justice has sufficiently complied with the requirement are among those who have accused her of wrongdoing in that regard, during hearings conducted by Congress, thus effectively prejudging the matter,” he added.
Associate Justices Teresita De Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza and Noel Tijam had testified against Sereno during the impeachment hearings at the House of Representatives.
“Let us allow the impeachment to unfold, to guarantee the impeachable officer due process of fundamental law,” Villarin said.
“As the nation’s highest court, the Supreme Court’s focus should always be to keep the freedoms of each person inviolable and sacred,” he added.
In any event, Deinla said, the fact that Calida confirmed that he had obtained the SALNs himself proved that the Chief Justice had indeed filed her UP SALNs contrary to solicitor general’s claim in his petition.
Deinla cited Paragraph 23 of the petition where Calida “categorically and without qualification” stated that the Chief Justice “only filed SALNs for the years 1998, 2002 and 2006 during her tenure as law professor at the UP College of Law from 1986 up to 2006.”
Calida, however, submitted in his reply to the SC on March 27, 2018 Sereno’s eight SALNs for the years 1985, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997, she said.
Deinla also said Calida could not claim that he was the one who retrieved the SALNs since even before the SolGen submitted it to the SC, the Chief Justice had already informed the high tribunal in her Comment filed on March 19, 2018 that she had already recovered most of the missing SALNs.
“This proves that the Chief Justice had found the missing SALNs even before the SolGen submitted them to the Supreme Court on March 27, 2018,” Deinla said.
Sereno intends to present the recovered UP SALNs to the Senate impeachment court, without prejudice to her legal defenses, since her alleged failure to file SALNs before she joined the SC is not within the scope of the impeachment complaint, or the grounds for impeachment provided in the Constitution, the spokesperson added.