Sereno ouster shows SC bowing to 'aggressive' SolGen – Justice Leonen

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 11) — The Solicitor General's petition to oust former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno should have been junked outright, an associate justice said Friday.

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen stressed the landmark ruling "gravely diminishes" judicial independence and threatens the ability of the Supreme Court to uphold the people's rights.

"We render this Court subservient to an aggressive Solicitor General. We render those who present dissenting opinions unnecessarily vulnerable to powerful interests," Leonen said in a tweet.

"Even if the Chief Justice has failed our expectations, quo warranto, as a process to oust an impeachable officer and a sitting member of the Supreme Court, is a legal abomination," he added.

Leonen was among six justices who voted against unseating Sereno during an en banc session Friday. The others were Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco, Mariano Del Castillo, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa.

The remaining eight justices however comprised the majority vote that ousted Sereno, making her the first impeachable official to be removed from office without a Senate trial.

Justice-Votes-Quo-Warranto_CNNPH.jpeg  

The Supreme Court has yet to release the full Supreme Court decision and the justices' separate opinions.

But a part of the decision read by Spokesperson Theodore Te said the high court found Sereno "guilty of unlawfully holding and exercising the office of the Chief Justice."

A few minutes after Te announced the high court's ruling, he posted a statement saying "I dissent!" on his personal Twitter account.

Nine justices – Carpio, Teresita de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza, Samuel Martires, Noel Tijam, Andres Reyes, and Alexander Gesmundo – agreed Sereno violated the Constitution for her failure to file her Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALNs) for ten years before she applied for the chief justice post in 2012.

This was the main argument raised by Solicitor General Jose Calida in asking for Sereno's ouster.

The Supreme Court said its ruling is "immediately executory," thereby declaring the chief justice post vacant. It gave Sereno 10 days to explain why she should not be sanctioned for her alleged violations.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who had declared himself an enemy of Sereno and called for her ouster, will appoint the next chief justice. Duterte had repeatedly denied any involvement in the ouster petition, but Sereno had said Calida as the government's top lawyer should be obeying orders from a superior.

The Supreme Court's decision to oust Sereno appears to have preempted what could have been a Senate trial if 1/3 of the members of the House of Representatives would vote to impeach her. But there are still some lawmakers calling for the impeachment to proceed independently from the Supreme Court.