Supreme Court -Sereno

“God bless our beloved country.”

Thus said Senate President Koko Pimentel, the head of the ruling party and son of the illustrious democratic icon former Senate President Nene Pimentel, as he called on the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision to oust Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno based on a quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida.

Pimentel, a staunch ally of President Duterte, stressed that the Chief Justice is an impeachable official who can be removed only after impeachment by the House and conviction by the Senate.

With the Supreme Court gone berserk and ignoring the constitution it is tasked and sworn to uphold and protect, the country is now one giant step closer to authoritarian rule with the balance of power tilted heavily in favor of the Chief Executive. The SC decision confirmed fears that the high tribunal has become subservient to President Duterte, and with Congress firmly under the control of the Chief Executive, the balance of power inherent in a strong democracy no longer exists in the country.

The Supreme Court has upheld many questionable actions of this administration, among them the decision to give President Ferdinand Marcos a hero’s burial, the decision to allow the case against Sen. Leila de Lima to proceed despite the fact that the testimonies were from convicted drug felons, and the decision to uphold martial law in Mindanao.

These decisions have tainted the independence of the Supreme Court, and the shady decision to oust Sereno has put into serious question the integrity and stability of the high tribunal.

In their dissenting opinions, four of the six justices who voted against the quo warranto petition said the tribunal should have dismissed outright the petition filed by Calida against Sereno.

“This petition should have been dismissed outright and not given due course. It does not deserve space in judicial deliberation within our constitutional democratic space,” said Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, who also wrote a scathing dissenting opinion against the martial law ruling. He said the decision was a “legal abomination” and created a bad precedent that put at risk those who dissent against the “privileged and the powerful.”

Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who should have been the most hurt when President Noynoy Aquino appointed the most junior justice being the most senior among those nominated by the Judicial and Bar Council, said Sereno is “liable for culpable violations of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust” but agreed with Sereno that the Chief Justice can only be removed by Congress through impeachment.

Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo, calling the move to oust Sereno via a quo warranto petition “constitutional adventurism,” wrote in his dissenting opinion, “With the SolGen wielding a quo warranto sword of Damocles over the heads of these officers (the justices of the Supreme Court), the Filipino people cannot be assured that they will discharge their constitutional mandate and functions without fear or favor.”

The vote was eight in favor of the quo warranto petition and six against. Among those who voted for the ouster of Sereno were the six justices who testified angrily against Sereno during the impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives, and were therefore clearly prejudiced against Sereno and should have recused themselves as demanded by Sereno.

By ignoring the constitutional mandate that the Chief Justice can only be removed by impeachment to unseat a Chief Justice they did not like, the Supreme Court has eroded its credibility as an impartial and independent body. It is easy to believe that the eight justices voted to grant the quo warranto petition because of personal reasons and loyalties instead of their sense of justice

Will they be able to set aside their personal prejudices and loyalties in their future decisions? How can the people now trust them as a court of last resort to obtain justice when it has become apparent that they turned a blind eye to the constitution and the rule of law to oust Sereno because they didn’t like the way they were bypassed and the way Sereno ran the tribunal?

For example, just recently, the justices, sitting as members of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, decided to allow only ballots with at least 50% shading to be counted despite the Commission on Elections’ ruling during the 2016 presidential elections that the machines would count ballots that were shaded at least 25%. This PET ruling, according to the supporters of Vice President Leni Robredo, could favor former Senator Bongbong Marcos in his electoral protest against Robredo.

Some people are now asking: Is this part of a trade-off with the Duterte administration with the justices getting a shot at becoming Chief Justice (most of them will never become Chief Justice for as long as Sereno is there because most of them shall have retired before Sereno becomes retireable) and for other favors (like being named as Ombudsman) in exchange for ousting two of the harshest critics of the present regime?

Justice Caguioa said: “By ousting the Chief Justice through the expediency of holding that the Chief Justice failed this ‘test’ of integrity, it is actually the Court that fails.”

With the integrity of the court of last resort in doubt, where else can the people turn to for justice and redress of their grievances? And with the Executive branch apparently holding sway over its co-equal Legislative and Judicial branches, where is democracy headed in our country?

Amid these recent developments, we must now all join Senate President Koko Pimentel in praying, “God bless our beloved country.”