'Without honor': In dissent, Caguioa hits majority ruling to oust Sereno

Kat Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 12 2018 02:47 PM

Ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa. Composite / ABS-CBN File photo and the Supreme Court website

MANILA - The Supreme Court committed "seppuku without honor" when it submitted to the "prodding" of the Solicitor General to oust the top magistrate through a move that "sidestepped" the Constitution, Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa said in his dissenting opinion.

"Seppuku" is the Japanese practice of committing suicide to regain one's honor.

The Supreme Court on Friday ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno after 8 justices voted in favor of a quo warranto petition that sought to nullify her appointment in 2012 for allegedly failing to submit her statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALNs), as required in the application process.

Caguioa was among six who voted against Sereno's ouster. 

"This case marks the time when the Court commits seppuku - without honor... I view with deep shame and regret this day when the Court has ousted one of its sitting Members upon the prodding of a mere agency of a separate coordinate department," said Caguioa.

He said the petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida was unconstitutional as the chief justice and other impeachable officials may only be removed through impeachment.

The majority had said a quo warranto plea was a valid remedy to ensure that "only qualified individuals" hold public office. 

"No matter how dislikable a member of the Court is, the rules cannot be changed just to get rid of him, or her in this case," he said.

"Traveling this prohibited road will be at the expense and to the extreme prejudice of the independence of the entire judiciary, the independence of the Court's individual members, and the freedom of discourse within the Court," he added.

Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo's dissenting opinion also slammed the Solicitor General for "urging" the High Court to veer away from the Constitution.

"In instituting this quo warranto proceeding, the SolGen urges this Court to take the road not taken. I am not inclined to take part in any constitutional adventurism, and I intend to remain within the clearly confined course that the framers of our Constitution have delineated," del Castillo said.

Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. said the issue of Sereno's missing SALNs should have been raised when she was first nominated as Supreme Court justice.

"No one, however, raised or challenged respondent's integrity when she was first included in the list of nominees to a post in this Court in 2010. And again, when she was nominated for appointment to the Office of the Chief Justice in 2012, no one questioned her qualifications," Velasco said.

Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe said the decision may have tipped off the balance of powers guaranteed by the Constitution.

The vote against Sereno gave the Solicitor General a pass to question the decisions of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), supposed to be "a separate constitutional organ which functions as a check on the President's power of appointment," Perlas-Bernabe said.

"To allow a direct resort to quo warranto would amount to bypassing the JBC, and in consequence, render vulnerable the integrity of the Judiciary as an institution," she said.

"Indeed, it could not have been intended that the OSG could simply come in at any time and ask the Supreme Court to re-assess the subjective qualifications of any Judiciary appointee when the same had already been determined by the body specifically created therefore," she added.

CARPIO: JUDICIARY HAS NO POWER TO REMOVE IMPEACHABLE OFFICIALS

Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said Sereno committed lapses when she failed to submit all the requirements when she applied as top magistrate. 

But in his dissent, he reiterated that the judiciary does not have the power to remove any impeachable official from office.

"No court, not even this Court, can assume the exclusive mandate of Congress to remove impeachable officers from office," he said.

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen dubbed Sereno's ouster as a “legal abomination” that should not have been entertained by the High Court.

Under the law, Sereno has 15 days to file a motion for reconsideration before the high court's decision becomes final.

Sereno said her camp would file a motion for reconsideration, but did not directly answer if she was confident that her peers would overturn the decision.

"I do not make my actions on the basis of my calculations of my chances," Sereno told reporters on Friday just hours after she was ousted as top magistrate.

"Whether I'm optimistic or pessimistic or whatever chances I have, I will have to make my next move," she said.