Senate leaders slam 'unconstitutional' petition to oust Sereno
MANILA, Philippines – Senate leaders on Monday, March 5, opposed the quo warranto petition seeking to remove Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno from her post, calling it unconstitutional.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, a staunch ally of President Rodrigo Duterte who has repeatedly criticized Sereno, said impeachment is the only way to go.
"Under the Constitution... once in position, the following high-ranking government officials can only be removed from their positions through impeachment. So if you invent some other proceeding, which will result [in their removal] from office, that [would] violate that provision in the Constitution," Pimentel told reporters.
"First impression, malabo (it's unclear)," he added.
Senators from the minority bloc shared a similar sentiment, as they expressed concern over "attacks" on the Constitution.
Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV said: "Nakakabahala po na 'yung napakalinaw na proseso sa ating Konstitusyon, iniiba po ang ginagawang proseso. Sana po, mas maganda, hayaan na lang po ang Kongreso, hayaan na lang po ang Senado na gawin ang trabaho namin... So, ito pong pagbabago ng proseso labag ho 'yan sa ating Konstitusyon at kailangan ho sigurong tingnan natin kung ano ba ang tamang proseso dito po sa issue na ito."
(It's alarming that the clear process indicated in the Constitution is being changed. They should just allow Congress, allow the Senate to do our job.... This changing of the process violates our Constitution and we need to take into account the proper procedures here.)
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV also said: "Ang quo warranto proceedings na 'yan bawal 'yan.... 'Yun kasi ang shortcut. Pinipilit nilang pag-resignin ayaw mag-resign. Kaya ito ngayon ang shortcut. Ayaw nila ng Senate impeachment trial dahil hindi nila makokontrol kung ano ang mangyayari dito, kasi dito saksi ang taumbayan sa ipe-presenta nilang ebidensya."
(That quo warranto proceeding is not allowed.... That's the shortcut. They're forcing her to resign but she does not want to. That's why they're taking this shortcut. They don't want the Senate impeachment trial to happen because they cannot control what will happen here, because here they will have to present their evidence before the public.)
Solicitor General Jose Calida on Monday filed a petition for quo warranto asking the Supreme Court (SC) to declare the appointment of Sereno unlawful, thereby removing her from office.
If Calida gets what he wants, the en banc – which earlier pressured Sereno to go on leave amid risk of impeachment – would judge her fate.
'Warning' to SC justices
While this seems like a shortcut to removing Sereno from office, it is not without consequences even to the SC magistrates themselves.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the petition is "a slippery slope" and could set a crucial precedent – one that could be detrimental to all impeachable officials.
"Let me express the apprehension that the moment the Supreme Court entertains and rules on this – that it has the power to, in effect, dismiss the Chief Justice – that the same rule applies to them. That same rule will apply to heads of various constitutional bodies, including the COA (Commission on Audit), Comelec (Commission on Elections), the Vice President, and even to the President," Drilon said.
Trillanes, for his part, said the SC justices could be impeached for violating the 1987 Constitution and could also face graft charges if they act on the petition.
"Definitely impeachable offense 'yan, unconstitutional act 'yan. Kapag inaksyunan nila 'yang quo warranto petition, sila mismo mai-impeach. Ngayon, kung balang araw wala na ang administrasyon na ito, madali i-file 'yang mga 'yan.... It serves as a warning," Trillanes said.
(It's definitely an impeachable offense, an unconstitutional act. If they act on the quo warranto petition, the SC justices themselves can be impeached. Now, once this administration is no longer in power, that would be easy to file.... It serves as a warning.)
Senate leaders, if not most senators, view the petition as an affront to the capability and jurisdiction of the Senate, which is mandated to try impeachment cases. Pimentel, who rarely comments against the Duterte administration's moves, does so when the institution's fate and credibility are at stake.
"We also weaken the Senate in the process... Ang dapat siguro malaman ng taumbayan, kahit 'yung mga excited nang paalisin si Chief Justice, dapat alam nila na ang Senate ay handa naman kami eh (What the people should know, including those excited to oust the Chief Justice, is that the Senate is ready). We are ready, wiling, and able to conduct the impeachment proceedings," Pimentel said.
The Senate clearly has no power over the petition but nothing stops the senators from raising their opposition in public.
Now, the Senate continues its preparation for the possible impeachment trial of Sereno, with Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III saying they are almost done. Sotto earlier said he sees the trial happening by the end of July.
At the House of Representatives, opposition lawmakers have also denounced Calida's move, saying it shows that the Duterte administration is already "desperate." – Rappler.com