A leader in the House of Representatives on Wednesday said beleaguered Chief Justice Maria Lourdes A. Sereno won’t escape the fate of losing her post as chief magistrate, either through quo warranto or impeachment.
House Committee on Justice Chairman Rep. Reynaldo V. Umali of the Second District of Oriental Mindoro expressed confidence that the High Court will grant the quo warranto petition against Sereno.
However, if the SC justices vote against the petition, Umali said, members of the lower chamber will vote at the plenary to impeach Sereno.
SC justices are expected to hold a special en banc session on Friday to decide on the quo warranto petition. The petition, filed by Solicitor General Jose C. Calida, questioned the validity of the appointment of Sereno.
“That’s what I think. That’s my reading also on the situation, basing it from an earlier action taken by the Supreme Court where the court en banc voted 13-0 on her going on leave. I think the numbers will no longer differ so much. If they differ, I guess it’s just about one or two changing votes and siding with the Chief Justice,” Umali said.
“[In the lower chamber] we voted 38-2 at the committee level. And I guess, numbers will also not change in the plenary. I guess it will be a supermajority voting to impeach her,” he added.
For his part, Party-list Rep. Gary C. Alejano of Magdalo said the quo warranto petition could only lead to the weakening of the democratic institutions in the country like the SC.
The removal of a sitting justice, he said, is a power of Congress through impeachment.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives will decide on the impeachment complaint against Sereno when Congress resumes session next week.
Sereno on Wednesday announced her return to the SC to assume her post after going on an indefinite leave on March 1 to prepare for her impending impeachment trial before the Senate.
Sereno’s decision to report for work came two days before her fellow magistrates are expected to decide on the quo warranto petition filed by Calida seeking the nullification of her appointment as chief magistrate.
Lawyer Carlo Cruz, one of Sereno’s spokesmen, said the chief magistrate decided to return to the SC after completing her preparation for her legal defense against the impeachment complaint filed against her.
“Now that the purpose of her leave of absence has been served, the Chief Justice will resume performing her constitutional mandate and discharging her responsibilities as head of the Judiciary. Her return to her office is in full consonance with our Constitution,” Cruz said.
Sereno’s camp shared the opinion of constitutionalist and former SC Justice Vicente Mendoza that the Chief Justice is legally within her rights to end her leave and return to the office.
“Justice Mendoza stated that preventing her from resuming her post would bring about a constitutional crisis and upset the balance of power in government’,” Cruz stated.
He added the Chief Justice will inhibit herself from the deliberations of the magistrates on the quo warranto petition, which is expected on Friday, in accordance with the Code for Judicial Conduct and out of delicadeza.
Lawyer Jojo Lacanilao, another Sereno spokesman, told reporters that Sereno arrived around 7:30 a.m. at the Supreme Court to resume her duties as Chief Justice.
IN Malacañang, meanwhile, Presidential Spokesman Harry L. Roque Jr. said President Duterte recognizes judicial independence and respects the separation of powers of the three branches of the government, including a functioning Judiciary.
“The decision of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes A. Sereno to end her indefinite leave and the reported ruling of the quo warranto petition against the Chief Justice are internal matters to the High Court,” Roque said.
The President earlier took a swipe at Sereno, calling her “dumb” and “ignorant.”
He also previously said in a news briefing that he is Sereno’s “enemy,” and that he will ask Congress to fast-track her impeachment.
IT can be recalled that the SC en banc castigated Sereno’s camp for putting the magistrates in a controversy when it issued a statement that caused confusion with regard to the nature of her leave of absence.
In a resolution issued on March 1, the Court en banc said it considered Sereno to be on indefinite leave starting March 1, 2018 and appointed Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio as acting chief justice.
Sereno’s camp, however, said there is no need for the chief magistrate to seek permission from the en banc to perform her duties as Chief Justice.
Cruz said Sereno only has an administrative duty to inform the SC about the termination of her indefinite leave.
“She has returned and Associate Justice Carpio was in an acting capacity during her leave. But the leave is over, so the Chief Justice who remains the Chief Justice is taking over,” Cruz said
He added Sereno is ready to preside over the special en banc session on Friday, where the quo warranto petition is expected to be tackled and resolved by the Court.
With Bernadette D. Nicolas