Reconsidering Republic versus Sereno

With this column, the fourth in a series, I continue my summary of the motion for reconsideration filed by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno asking her fellow Supreme Court Justices to reverse the decision ousting her.

On the third ground raised in the motion for reconsideration, Sereno argues that the Court erred when it annulled the official act of the JBC. According to her, the official act of the Judicial and Bar Council nominating and President Aquino appointing her were acts beyond the pale of judicial review. The JBC was exercising its discretionary power in determining respondent’s possession of integrity, a political question not reviewable by the court. In the same vein, the President’s choice and determination of her qualifications was as much a political question as that of the JBC.

For her fourth ground, the Chief Justice posits that the petition was time-barred. The rules, specifically Section 11 Rule 66 of the Rules of Court a petition for quo warranto, must be filed within one (1) year from the “cause of ouster.” In stating that prescription does not run against the State and the one-year period only runs upon discovery the Court, according to respondent, was stating a new doctrine. The Civil Code and the Rules of Civil Procedure do not mention that the time of reckoning of the prescriptive period only runs upon discovery unless specifically provided.

Finally, Chief Justice Sereno argues that she is a person of proven integrity, contrary to the Court’s ruling that she is not as she failed to chronically file her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth. She submits that this is inconsistent with the Court’s pronouncement that the Solicitor General, the petitioner in the quo warranto case, has discharged its burden of proof. In the first place, according to her, requiring her to produce her SALNs is inconsistent with the principle that petitioner has the burden of proof. It is tantamount to presuming that she did not file her SALNs which is violative of her right to the presumption of innocence and regularity. Considering the probability that the custodian is incompetent to produce the SALNs without the fault of the public officer, the certification required by the Court may not be presented. In fact, there is a preponderance of evidence to show that she actually submitted her SALNs in the University of the Philippines. That she actually complied with the requirement to file her SALNs is shown by her not receiving any “compliance order” or “show cause order” from UP Human Resources Development Office.

The Chief Justice likewise submits that the Court erred in ignoring the criteria of the JBC in determining the integrity and applied its own definition of integrity which is an abstract concept. To her, the Court has no authority to substitute its own definitions, criteria or guidelines which the JBC has fixed in its rules. Worse, the Court’s definition of integrity has made it ascertainable and certain which acknowledges in earlier parts of its decision as not easily ascertainable or ironclad. She points out that when the JBC was considering respondent’s application for chief justice she was not facing criminal and administrative cases for failing to file her SALNs as professor of UP. The JBC also did not receive any complaint that she had violated the law. In fact, she was able to submit documents like certifications of no pending cases, endorsements from various groups to attest to her character, integrity and independence and competence. Further, the JBC did not consider the filing of the SALN as a qualification for Chief Justice. If anything else, the SALN is a tool to uncover if the applicant has hidden assets.

Simply put, the JBC is more than capable of determining whether or not an applicant has integrity without requiring the submission of the SALN. Records would show that among the eight applicants for chief justice, six did not submit all their SALNs and yet the JBC deemed that they substantially complied with the requirement, she said. And considering that she made an attempt to comply with the SALN requirement and gave the reasons why she did not submit her SALNs as UP professor, it was right for the JBC to conclude that she had substantially complied with the requirement, she added. Moreover, no JBC member invoked the Integrity rule on the respondent. Respondent asserts that the filing or non-filing of SALN per se does not prove or negate integrity; non-filing is not in itself an act of corruption or dishonesty. Jurisprudence does not make a distinction between omission in the SALN and one who fails to submit a SALN. Therefore, one who fails to submit a SALN does not automatically lack integrity.

As her final word, Chief Justice Sereno emphasizes that the majority violated basic, fundamental principles of law and judicial precedents to achieve one end—her disqualification and ouster as chief justice.

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Topics: Supreme Court Justices , Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno , Judicial and Bar Council , quo warranto
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