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Unconstitutional! Pimentel sides with minority senators on Calida’s quo warranto petition vs Sereno

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By: Xave Gregorio

In a rare crossing of party lines, Senate President Koko Pimentel agreed with minority senators in saying that only the Senate can remove Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno from her post and cast doubt on the constitutionality of the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida.

Pimentel said there is nothing in the Constitution which says magistrates of the Supreme Court (SC) can be booted through a quo warranto petition, which, if successful, may void the appointment of Sereno to the top post of the judiciary.

“Kasi nga sa pagbasa natin sa constitutional provision [on impeachment,] ang message that we get is that the only way to remove these high-ranking government officials, who are so-called impeachable officials, is to impeach, ‘di ba?” Pimentel said Monday in an interview with reporters before the start of the Senate session.

“If you invent some other proceeding which would result in the removal from office, then that should violate the provision in the Constitution. Pag-aralan [ng Solicitor General] mabuti kasi medyo malabo,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel, an abogado who topped the Bar Exam in 1990, maintained that Sereno can only be removed through a conviction by the Senate impeachment court.

“Ang dapat siguro na malaman na ng taong bayan, kahit na ‘yung mga excited nang paalisin si Chief Justice, dapat alam nila na ang Senate ay handa naman kami. We are ready, willing and able to conduct the impeachment proceedings, Pimentel said.

“If all of a sudden there is another way to remove them, eh ‘di, where is that found?”

Pimentel joins minority Senators Bam Aquino, Risa Hontiveros and Antonio Trillanes IV in asserting that only the Senate impeachment court can remove Sereno from her post.

Aquino said in an interview that Calida is changing the procedure of unseating the Chief Justice, contrary to the Constitution, which provides that Congress has the sole power to initiate and decide on impeachment cases.

“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,” Aquino said.

Hontiveros said impeachment is the “most proper” way to remove Sereno from her post.

“Ang tingin ko po sa ganyang proseso ay dito pa rin sa Senado, ayon sa Konstitusyon ang tamang lugar para sa ganyang desisyon,” Hontiveros said in an interview.

Trillanes also maintained that removing Sereno through a quo warranto petition is a “shortcut” to the impeachment process and is not allowed under the Constitution.

He even warned that High Court magistrates who allow the quo warranto petitions against Sereno to prosper may even lead to impeachment proceedings against them under a different administration.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, however, is leaving the judgment of the constitutionality of booting Sereno out of her office through a quo warranto petition with the SC, whose members have shown animosity toward the Chief Justice.

“We learned in law school that the Constitution is what the Supreme Court says it is. In other words, unless put otherwise, the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of Constitutional issues,” Drilon said in an interview.

However, he cautioned that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the petition to void Sereno’s appointment, it may set a precedent for other impeachable officials — including the president and the vice president.

Calida filed Monday a quo warranto petition with the Supreme Court seeking to void Sereno’s appointment on the grounds that she did not meet the qualifications then set by the Judicial and Bar Council for aspirants for the top post in the judiciary.

This is the second quo warranto petition seeking to nullify the appointment of Sereno. On Friday, deposed President Ferdinand Marcos’ abogado and loyalist Oliver Lozano filed a similar petition with the Supreme Court.

The Constitution does not provide for the ouster of the chief justice through a quo warranto petition, only through impeachment, as stated in Section 2, Article XI of the charter.

However, the Rules of Court says that government officials can be ousted through a quo warranto petition, which allows the right of individuals to hold office to be questioned.

But opposition lawmaker Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman said that the prescriptive period—or the time when a quo warranto petition can be filed—has already expired.

Lagman refers to Section 11 of Rule 66 of the Rules of Court, which says public officials cannot be ousted through a quo warranto procedure “unless the same be commenced within one year after the cause of such ouster, or the right of the petitioner to hold such office or position, arose.”

Lagman contends that if Sereno were to be ousted through a quo warranto petition challenging her qualifications to hold office, this should have been done before she marked a year as chief justice in August 2013.

While Pimentel questions the constitutionality of removing Sereno through a quo warranto petition, he said Calida asking the SC to void Sereno’s appointment is just part of his job.

“Ang purpose ng solicitor general is to file cases, defend cases and maybe contribute to jurisprudence,” Pimentel said.

“It’s a legitimate act of the Office of the Solicitor General. Ang tanong ko lang is kung magsa-succeed ba.”