Last Thursday, 23 August, four members of the House of Representatives — Edcel Lagman of Albay, Gary Alejano of the Magdalo partylist, Teodoro Baguilat Jr. of Ifugao and Tom Villarin of Akbayan partylist — filed impeachment complaints against seven justices of the Supreme Court (SC).
Lagman is a known minion of newly installed House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. In 2001, he tried to run in Quezon City but he lost.
Alejano is a known critic of President Rodrigo Duterte and will use every excuse to denounce the Duterte administration.
Baguilat is with the Liberal Party (LP) of ex-President Benigno Aquino III. After the LP defeat in May 2016, Baguilat announced that the LP economizing and had to settle for the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines (UP) for the venue of its grand assembly.
Villarin is just another one of those noisy politicians in the House.
The seven justices at the receiving end of the impeachment complaint are Chief Justice Teresita de Castro and Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Andres Reyes, Francis Jardeleza, Noel Tijam and Alexander Gesmundo. At the time the complaint was filed, De Castro was not yet appointed chief justice. She was appointed to the top judicial post by President Duterte only last 25 August.
It appears that the seven justices were sued for their affirmative vote in the quo warranto case filed by the Solicitor General against then Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. They were among the eight justices who voted to oust Sereno as chief justice last May.
The eight justice, Samuel Martires, was not included in the impeachment complaint because he had already retired from the SC and, thereafter, appointed Ombudsman by President Duterte.
Sereno was appointed chief justice in 2012 by President Aquino III. At that time, Sereno had been an associate justice for just two years and had no prior experience as a trial lawyer or jurist. Because Sereno’s appointment as chief justice by-passed several justices who were her seniors, Sereno’s appointment was seen by many as highly politicized in character.
It is alleged in the impeachment complaint that the seven justices committed a culpable violation of the Constitution when they voted to unseat Sereno. More specifically, the Lagman kennel club claims Sereno may be removed only through impeachment proceedings in Congress and that by voting to unseat Sereno through the quo warranto case, the justices were aware that they were violating the Constitution.
Likewise, it is alleged in the impeachment complaint that the seven justices usurped the functions of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), the constitutional body that screens appointees to the judiciary. More particularly, Lagman group alleges that since the JBC had already declared Sereno qualified for appointment as chief justice in 2012, the SC cannot override the action taken by the JBC by subsequently declaring that Sereno failed to qualify for the top judicial post.
It will be recalled that the SC unseated Sereno in a quo warranto case because she failed to qualify as chief justice due to her failure to submit her complete Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Net worth, a requirement imposed by the JBC on all candidates for top magistrate.
Last July, retired Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., another die-hard follower of Aquino III, publicly declared that the justices who voted to unseat Sereno should be themselves impeached. Apparently, Lagman and his underlings got their cue from Davide.
The impeachment complaint will not prosper because it has no support in Constitutional Law.
As every freshman law student knows, the final say on what the Constitution means is vested in the SC. Even the Civil Code of the Philippines provides that decisions of the SC form part of the law of the land.
Although some decisions of the SC may not be acceptable to some sectors of Philippine society, everyone is duty-bound to abide by those decisions. Even the president and Congress must yield to the pronouncements of the High Court. The other choice is anarchy.
The SC has already spoken.
First, impeachment presupposes that the official sought to be impeached has met all of the qualifications for a valid appointment to the subject office. If the official concerned failed to qualify in the first place, then that official is, from the perspective of Constitutional Law, a mere usurper of public office. The SC found that Sereno failed to comply with the requirements for a valid appointment as chief justice.
Second, time and time again, the legal remedy against usurpers of public office is quo warranto. This remedy has been in the books even before Sereno was born.
Third, a void appointment to public office does not and should never ripen into a valid appointment by the mere lapse of time. Just because Sereno had been chief justice for five years already does not bar quo warranto proceedings precisely because of her status as a usurper of public office.
Fourth, the one-year period contemplated in quo warranto cases is a procedural rule which the SC, pursuant to its powers under the Constitution, may suspend when public interest is involved. When a usurper is found to be holding the highest judicial post in the land, it is in the public interest that the usurper be unseated regardless of how long the usurper has held office.
Besides, the disqualification of Sereno was concealed from the public since 2012 and was discovered by the State only in early 2018 after her disqualification was revealed to the public during the House deliberations on the impeachment case filed against her in 2017.
Therefore, it can be argued that the quo warranto case against Sereno was filed within the one-year period contemplated in the rules.
That idiotic impeachment complaint should be dismissed outright.