A constitutional question

TO hear the Liberal Party and other opposition politicians tell it, efforts to remove Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno by any means other than impeachment would be unconstitutional.

“Any machinations to oust her from office outside of impeachment would be in violation of the Constitution that the [Supreme Court] justices have been sworn to protect and uphold,” a statement issued by the opposition party said.

Thus the LP rejects a quo warranto petition that the Office of the Solicitior General has filed before the Supreme Court, which asks the justices to void her appointment in 2012 because she failed to meet the legal requirements when she applied for the post of chief justice.

The opposition also complains about calls for Sereno to resign, as if it were somehow illegal to press an erring public official to step down.

Yet this is exactly what the Liberal Party did when it was in power, and succeeded in pressuring then-Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez to resign to avoid a relentless shame campaign and impeachment. President Benigno Aquino III and his Liberal Party lackeys tried the same tactic with no success with then Chief Justice Renato Corona, attacking him mercilessly in the press, then pressuring him to resign. This effort failed to sway Corona, who insisted he did no wrong and opted to defend himself before an impeachment court in the Senate. But the odds were stacked against Corona—after Mr. Aquino dangled millions of pesos in pork in front of senators who would vote to convict the chief justice.

But nobody among the holier-than-thou Liberal Party stalwarts said anything about the concerted smear campaign or the baldfaced bribery instigated by their leader, Mr. Aquino. None of them said anything about how disturbing it was that people were ganging up on the chief justice—because they were the ones ganging up on him. Again, not one of them complained that the pressure brought to bear on Gutierrez and Corona to resign was unconstitutional because it was “outside of impeachment.”

Of course, the Liberals never tried to file a quo warranto petition against Corona because save for Sereno and a few others, he had the support of his colleagues in the Supreme Court.

Sereno’s supporters argue that a chief justice may only be removed by impeachment. But the quo warranto petition asserts that Sereno cannot be considered a chief justice because she was never qualified to take the job, and asks the Supreme Court to nullify her appointment. Because she was never truly the chief justice, she need not be impeached.

It is a valid question that ought to be constitutionally tested—and what better way of testing it than to go to the Supreme Court for a decision?

Topics: Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno , Impeachment
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