Robredo: Sereno ouster compromised the foundation of the judiciary

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Vice President Leni Robredo (L) and Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 11) —  Vice President Leni Robredo said on Friday the ouster of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is a travesty of the judicial system.

"Now that the foundation of the judiciary has been compromised, where will we go to if the integrity of the institution we are leaning on has been tarnished?" Robredo said in Filipino.

She called for public vigilance during these times and to gather strength from each other which she believes is the country's last hope.  The Vice President also assured the fight will continue not only for Sereno but for the integrity of all the institutions.

"As Vice President, I assure everyone that the fight is not yet over," she added. "Together let us take every step to correct this mistake. This is the way to regain the trust of the people."

In a separate interview, Robredo said that there is a possibility to reassess the arguments even if it was decided by the same magistrates.  "Yung sa akin kase ayokong mawalan ng pag-asa ngayon. Kailangan tayong lumaban … kasi 'pag nawalan tayo ng pag -asa, tuluyan nang mawalan ng pag-asa sa ating Korte Suprema. Mahirap yun para sa bansa [For me, I do not want to lose hope now. We need to fight… because if we lose hope, there will be nothing left for the Supreme Court. It is bad for the country.],"she said.

Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque asked the public to "respect its [Supreme Court's] decision granting the quo warranto petition as the proper remedy and the quo warranto petition ruling against Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno."

"The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the law," Roque said.

Former President Benigno Aquino III, meanwhile, likened the decision to "maasim na manga [sour mango]," something that was forcibly done instead of waiting for it to be elevated to an impeachment court.

The decision has also elicted outrage among opposition senators even as lawmakers allied with the administration called on the people to respect the ruling.

The Senate was supposed to stand as an impeachment court for Sereno after the House of Representatives transmitted the articles of her pending impeachment case, but a Supreme Court ruling on Friday said the Chief Justice was disqualified from holding office through a quo warranto petition.

Students from various universities have announced plans to hold street protests.

Opposition senator Bam Aquino said this was a loss to the Filipino people.

"Ano pa ang laban ng karaniwang Pilipino kung ang Chief Justice ay kayang tanggalin nang basta-basta at hindi batay sa tamang proseso? [What kind of fight can an ordinary Filipino go into if the Chief Justice can easily be ousted and not based on the right proceeding?]" Aquino said in a statement.

Critics claimed the ouster plea filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida was unconstitutional. Under the charter, the Chief Justice may only be removed from office through impeachment.

But when the justices ruled eight to six in favor of the ouster plea, Senator Panfilo Lacson said their decision renders the impeachment proceeding "moot."

"That has mooted the impeachment proceeding. I don't think the House will still transmit the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate after the SC has granted the quo warranto. Having said that, there is no impeachment trial to speak of in the first place," Lacson said in a statement.

In a tweet, Lacson added the biggest winners in the high court's ruling are dull lawyers who would have exposed their stupidity at the impeachment trial. It was not clear if he referred to lawmakers, private prosecutors or private defense lawyers.

"Ang biggest 'winners' sa SC decision ay ang mga abogadong pulpol na handa sanang magkalat ng katangahan sa impeachment trial na hindi na mangyayari malamang hindi na ipadala ng House ang Articles of Impeachment sa Senado [The biggest 'winners' in the SC decision are lawyers that are ready to spread their stupidity in the impeachment trial that will no longer happen because it is unlikely the House would transmit the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate]," he said.

Opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes calls the ruling "the darkest hour in our democracy."

"The Supreme Court, which is supposed to be the cradle of our fragile Constitution, is the same body that killed it. Those SC justices who committed this heinous crime against our justice system must not and will not go unpunished," Trillanes said.

Senator Sonny Angara said the decision shows how divided the court is.

"If the decision is indeed 8-6 as reported it shows a divided court on a very important constitutional issue. This means the ruling may not be a stable one and may be subject to revision going forward," Angara explained in his statement.

But despite not agreeing with the decision, Angara said "the Court has spoken."

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente Sotto III echoed the call to respect the high court's ruling.

"We respect its decision. To do otherwise is to make our personal opinion higher than what we regard as supreme," he said.

The Supreme Court decided on the petition questioning the validity of Sereno's appointment over her failure to file her Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALNs). SALN issues topped the House Committee on Justice's report on the articles of Sereno's impeachment.

In the mind of Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin, "the House Justice Committee should submit to the plenary its report on finding probable cause for CJ Sereno's impeachment when session resumes next week."

It added: " As CJ Sereno can still file a motion for reconsideration, the decision is not yet final hence the House can proceed independently from the Supreme Court."

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), meanwhile, called the ouster “an exercise of despotism.”

“Duterte is not satisfied that the Supreme Court has consistently voted in his favor and demands the Chief Justice to be fully compliant. He was incensed that Sereno had openly spoken against maneuvers to gain absolute power,” CPP said in a statement released on Saturday.

Dissent from within

There was also dissent from within the judiciary.

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

On the other hand, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) was not surprised with the decision,  although its President Abdiel Fajardo previously expressed hope that "the justices individually would evaluate the case on the merits."

The organization previously questioned the quo warranto petition.

Fajardo agreed with filing a motion for reconsideration, as planned by the camp of the Chief Justice, but he was not optimistic about the result.

"If somebody changes [a judge's] mind... it can change," said Fajardo. "By experience of course we know that MRs have very slim chances of success in the Supreme Court."

However, this may not have lasting effects on jurisprudence just yet. Fajardo said it will depend on whether some justices concurred but did not agree to all the points.

"It's possible this may not hold long-lasting doctrinal value in the sense that it is a strong precedent. We will have to evaluate the tone of the individual justices," said Fajardo.

Former Chief Justice Hilario Davide also called the ruling a 'doomsday scenario' for the judiciary.

Student groups from the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, and Miriam College also slammed the SC's landmark ruling against Sereno, and are planning to stage a protest on Friday afternoon.

CNN Philippines' Cecille Lardizabal contributed to this report.