SolGen: Chief Justice Sereno 'unlawfully holding position'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 5) — The government's top lawyer wants the Supreme Court to void the appointment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Solicitor General Jose Calida said Sereno is not qualified to hold the position of Chief Justice due to her alleged failure to fully reveal her wealth, according to the quo warranto petition he filed before the Supreme Court. 

"The blatant disregard by respondent Sereno to comply with the requirements of the law and Constitution proves her lack of integrity, hence she is unlawfully holding the position as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court," Calida said in a press briefing on Monday.

In a statement, Sereno's camp said the Supreme Court should not entertain the petition.

"It has absolutely no basis in law and in the Constitution. The high tribunal should dismiss the petition outright on the basis that quo warranto is not a proper remedy. Under the 1987 Constitution, the Chief Justice may only be removed from office upon impeachment by the House of Representatives and conviction by the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court," Sereno's spokespersons said.

Calida clarified it is different from the impeachment proceedings at the House of Representatives.

A quo warranto is an extraordinary legal proceeding where an individual's right to hold office is challenged.

On the other hand, the impeachment proceedings is a way to remove impeachable officers due to culpable violation of Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, and betrayal of public trust.

"The unwritten assumption here is the officer was eligible and that his assumption of office was valid," Calida said, referring to impeachment.

Calida cited Sereno's failure to submit her statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN) for the past 10 years when she applied for Chief Justice.

"Unfortunately for respondent Sereno, she flunked the test of integrity when she failed to file more or less 10 SALNs," Calida said.

The issue of Sereno's SALN surfaced during one of the House Justice Committee impeachment proceedings.

Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) Executive Director Annaliza Ty-Capacite said Sereno submitted only three SALNs, covering 2009, 2010, and 2011.

Prior to holding a post at the judiciary, Sereno taught at the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law, a state university, from 1986 to 2006.

Applicants to the post are required to submit their SALN for the past decade, in this case from 2002 to 2011.

In a statement, Sereno's camp said Calida's move is just part of the "grand plan to harass, malign and humiliate the Chief Justice to force her to resign."

"Her detractors know that the impeachment case, which was built on lies, won't stand a chance in the Senate," it said. 

'An act of kindness'

Calida said filing the quo warranto is "an act of kindness to a fellow lawyer."

"The Office of the Solicitor General will not allow you to undergo the indignity that the late Chief Justice Renato Corona suffered at the hands of politicians who unjustly convicted him. You do not deserve that," Calida said.

Through the quo warranto proceedings, Calida said Sereno will be judged by her peers who know her and the Constitution better.

However, Sereno's spokesperson lawyer Jojo Lacanilao insisted, a sitting justice can only be removed through impeachment, citing a 1988 case against Justice Marcelo Fernan.

The Court dismissed the disbarment complaint against Fernan, saying to do so will "run afoul of the constitutional mandate that members of the Court may be removed from office only by impeachment."

Sereno's camp said the impeachment case should be brought immediately to the Senate instead.

"The best act of kindness to the Chief Justice is to transmit to the Senate the articles of impeachment expeditiously if they find probable cause in the committee and vote for impeachment in the plenary. The most cruel act they can inflict on the Filipino nation is to pressure the Supreme Court to substitute impeachment with quo warranto. Why are they afraid of a Senate trial?" the Chief Justice's camp said.

The House Justice Committee is set to vote this week on whether there is probable cause to impeach the Chief Justice. A vote of at least one-third of the members of the House of Representatives would trigger an impeachment trial at the Senate.

Impeachment or quo warranto? Palace has 'no preference'

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, who earlier called for the Chief Justice to resign, said the Palace had no preference on how the Chief Justice should be judged.

"We have no preference. Either way, we will enforce whatever decision the Supreme Court or the Senate may have, sitting as an impeachment court," Roque said in a press briefing.

He said the Supreme Court justices' call for Sereno to take a break sends a message and proves the justice system in the country is working.

"The justice system is well, and healthy, and alive in the Philippines," Roque said.


CNN Philippines' digital producers Yvette Morales, Ver Marcelo, and correspondent Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.