Senators Leila M. de Lima and Antonio F. Trillanes IV have filed a motion before the Supreme Court (SC) seeking to intervene and admit their strong opposition to the quo warranto petition filed against SC Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
De Lima and Trillanes said Solicitor General Jose Calida’s petition for quo warranto seeking to remove the Chief Justice on the ground that Sereno does not possess the constitutional requirement of ‘integrity’ is a matter best left to the Senate to decide.
“The power to remove an impeachable official from office is the sole prerogative of the Philippine Senate,” they said, citing Section 2, Article XI of the Constitution in asserting the Senate’s sole prerogative to remove impeachable officials.
In their five-page motion filed last April 4, De Lima and Trillanes asked the High Court to allow them to intervene because they have personal and official legal interest in whatever outcome of the petition seeking to remove Chief Justice Sereno.
“The movant-intervenors (De Lima and Trillanes) cannot idly stand by and allow a grave violation of the constitutional provisions in relation to impeachment, especially since it concerns the prerogatives of the Senate as an independent and co-equal branch of government and the duties of Senators as judges in an impeachment trial,” they said.
Calida has filed a quo warranto petition seeking to remove Sereno from office, saying the Chief Magistrate is “unlawfully holding” her post due to her alleged failure to make full disclosure in her Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Network (SALN).
The two senators, however, noted that the use of an identical ground to impeach Sereno and remove her through a quo warranto proceeding directly undermines the jurisdiction of the Senate and its members to hear and decide impeachment cases.
“The ground raised by the Solicitor General in his petition-lack of ‘integrity’ for failing to submit one’s SALN-is also part of the allegations in the impeachment case being heard in the House of Representatives,” they said in their 11-page Attached Opposition-in-Intervention.
They also maintained that an applicant recommended by the Judicial and Bar Council for an SC post who satisfies all the constitutional qualifications is a qualified candidate, regardless of the JBC’s action on non-mandatory requirements.
“The filing of a SALN, taking of a psychological or physical examination, and similar requirements are discretionary administrative requirements for consideration of the JBC, nothing more-they can be waived, removed entirely, or adjusted by the JBC in the exercise of its discretion,” the two senators pointed out.
They cited that the 1987 Constitution identifies and enumerates only three qualifications for appointment to the Supreme Court, to wit: (1) natural-born citizenship, (2) age, and (3) experience, all of which were satisfactorily met by Sereno.
Both De Lima and Trillanes maintained that by express provision of the Constitution, Sereno is only removable from office exclusively by impeachment, which invalidates the petition of Calida. “The present petition for quo warranto filed by the OSG seeks the removal or ouster of the Chief Justice via a means other than impeachment. This is contrary to the language, spirit, and design of the Constitution,” they noted.
Article XI, Section 2 of the Constitution states: “the President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Supreme Court, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman may be removed from office, on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.”
The provision likewise noted that “all other public officers and employees may be removed from office as provided by law, but not by impeachment.” The opposition senators said everyone is expected to respect the language of the Constitution, especially when it identifies a particular class and then restricts the ways by which its members can be removed from office.
“The exclusive nature of the class and the specificity of the mode of removal of the members of that class from office means two things- that the class cannot be expanded, and that no additional grounds for removal may be considered,” they stated.
“The Solicitor General cannot, in the guise of questioning an impeachable public officer’s appointment, raise questions before the Supreme Court that are exclusively constitutionally addressed to other branches of government,” they said.
As movant-intervenors in the petition, De Lima and Trillanes maintained that the Constitution vests in the Senate the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment.
“As citizens, taxpayers and Senators of the Republic, movant-intervenors have the right and duty to uphold the Constitution and to oppose government actions that are clearly patently unconstitutional,” they said.
“The mandated duty of movant-intervenors as judges in the possible impeachment trial of the Chief Justice will also be pre-empted and negated if the quo warranto petition were granted,” they added.