LAW & COURT: MANILA – The cards are stacked against Sereno but she may have an ace up her sleeve


MANILA, Philippines (First published May 12 at 6:36 p.m.) — In an unprecedented move, the Supreme Court on Friday voted to nullify the appointment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, whom President Rodrigo Duterte branded as his “enemy.”

Voting 8-6 in a special en banc session, the high tribunal only took two months to decide on Solicitor General Jose Calida’s quo warranto petition, which challenged the legality of Sereno’s appointment mainly on the grounds of missing wealth declarations.

In a rare display of unity, majority and minority lawmakers strongly decried the SC’s decision.

READ: How the quo warranto petition vs Sereno could affect the judiciary 

Some political watchers say the landmark ruling paves the way for a constitutional crisis, wherein the high court has assumed a function the fundamental law grants solely to Congress—to oust the chief justice through impeachment proceedings.

They have also noted that the SC, through its decision, handed tremendous powers to the solicitor general—to be able to remove an impeachable official through a quo warranto petition.

What lawmakers say

Voting 33-1, the House of Representatives’ committee on justice approved last March its report finding probable cause to unseat Sereno, as detailed in six articles of impeachment that were being readied for plenary approval and possible transmittal to the Senate.

The date SC released its decision, May 11, was crucial as it was days before Congress resumes session on May 15, when lawmakers are expected to vote on the articles of impeachment. Originally, the justices were supposed to hold a special session to decide on the quo warranto petition on May 17.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said last month that should the SC oust Sereno, they could still proceed with the impeachment trial, if a majority of senators agree, and tackle whether removal through a quo warranto petition was invalid. Nine justices of the high court said it was the proper remedy.

Pimentel, however, said this scenario could only happen if the articles of impeachment are already in the hands of the Senate. The high court’s vote to unseat the chief justice ahead of Congress’ opening of sessions seemed to have removed this option.

It also took away the opportunity for Sereno to prove her case before the Senate impeachment court.

Ahead of the verdict, House committee on justice head Rep. Reynaldo Umali said he might recommend that the impeachment complaint against Sereno “be archived” if there’s an “overwhelming vote” favoring the solicitor general’s ouster plea.

But Umali stressed that “if there is a close vote in favor, we will play it by ear.”

Separately, Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas on Friday said the House would no longer transmit the impeachment complaint against Sereno to the Senate for trial unless the SC ruling is reversed.

Glimmer of hope?

Shortly after the announcement of the ruling, Sereno’s camp said they would seek its reversal by filing a motion for reconsideration, or MR.

According to Integrated Bar of the Philippines President Abdiel Fajardo, the lower house may still submit the articles of impeachment to the Senate because the high court’s decision is not yet final and can still be overturned.


“In that sense, the chief justice is still employed as such and may still be removed by conviction in the Senate,” Fajardo explained in a phone interview on Saturday.

“Once the articles are there, the Senate—being the sole judge in impeachment trials—may take the view that the statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth violation is an impeachable offense that it will hear to the exclusion of any other government body, including the SC,” Fajardo added.

Narrow window

However, the IBP chief said the House might decide not to transmit the articles of impeachment to the upper chamber since the SC’s decision is immediately executory without the need for further action from the court.

“Immediately executory means she (Sereno) is no longer chief justice. She can only be reinstated if she wins the MR,” Fajardo said.

To score a victory, the chief justice must get two of the magistrates who voted for her ouster to rethink their decision.


“The House may take the narrow view that since the decision says that it is immediately executory, there is no more impeachable officer to remove and that therefore the impeachment will have to be set aside for being moot,” he added.


As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: May 12, 2018 – 9:40am

An insider source of The STAR says the decision on Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s quo warranto was already signed by seven justices ahead of this morning’s special en banc session.

Court observers said that based on the April 10 oral arguments on the quo warranto petition against Sereno, it seemed that majority of the justices were inclined to vote for the removal of the head magistrate.

READ: How the quo warranto petition vs Sereno could affect the judiciary

— with Edu Punay

May 12, 2018 – 9:40am

New York-based Human Rights Watch slams the “unprecedented and nefarious” removal of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, whom President Rodrigo Duterte calls his “enemy” that must leave the Supreme Court.

“Sereno’s ouster also kicks open the door for wanton removals of members of other constitutional bodies, such as the Commission on Human Rights,” HRW says in a statement.

“Ultimately, the rejection of constitutional checks and balances concentrates power in the hands of Duterte and his allies, posing the greatest danger to democracy in the Philippines since the Marcos dictatorship,” it adds.

May 11, 2018 – 7:24pm

The Supreme Court releases the full text of the decision on the quo warranto petition against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, whose appoinment to her post was deemed invalid earlier today.

Read the full decision here.

May 11, 2018 – 12:40pm

Sen. Sonny Angara makes a stand that ousting a chief justice is not a decision for a Supreme Court to make.

“I do not agree with the decision because impeachment is the only constitutional route for removal of a Chief Justice, but we acknowledge that the Court has spoken,” Angara says in a statement.

“The ripple effect of the decision may be felt in the coming months and years. I pray that wisdom and sobriety prevail in the future for the good of the country and our people,” he adds.

May 11, 2018 – 12:28pm

Solicitor General Jose Calida, who filed the quo warranto petition against Sereno, lauds the SC’s decision to oust Sereno.

Here’s his full statement:

May 11, 2018 – 12:19pm

Sereno’s camp is considering to appeal the decision of the Supreme Court to declare her appointment as void.

FULL STORY: Sereno camp to appeal SC ouster

( – May 13, 2018 – 9:50am
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