Sereno ousted

 

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Surprised?

Well, not really, if you ask me.

Ever since former president Benigno Aquino appointed Maria Lourdes Sereno as replacement for the ousted late Chief Justice (CJ) of the Supreme Court (SC) Renato Corona in 2012 for undeclared wealth, there was no denying that the writing on the wall was likewise ominous for her.

The fact that Sereno leapt over her more senior peers of associate justices was unfair enough, but it was even deemed more unthinkable that Sereno, then 52, was expected to stay in her post until reaching the mandatory retirement age in 2030. It is no secret that it is the dream of every associate justice who have aged and gone this far to head the SC one time or another before retiring.

Perhaps this is the reason why Sereno was joined by only five associate justices at her first flag-raising ceremony.  Local media viewed the absence of her eight other colleagues as a snub, and confirmation that she leads a divided court.

Divided court indeed, for at the crucial time when Sereno needed her associate justice’s support, eight (8) turned their back and left her to fall in disgrace.

This is what the writing on the wall was all about, so to speak. For one reason or for many reasons, for as long as it not only pleases the ears of those who dislike Sereno, but has found justifiable reason for her to be removed, then the mechanism for her ouster could immediately be initiated.

It all started last March when the House of Representatives’ justice committee voted on the impeachment complaint against CJ Sereno filed by lawyer Larry Gadon. During these times, Solicitor General Jose Calida also filed the quo warranto petition citing Sereno’s failure to submit the required statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth when she was applying for the Chief Justice position.

What happened is that the SC en banc granted the quo warranto petition that questioned the validity of Sereno’s appointment and, voting 8-6, ousted her.

The decision is expected to be immediately executory, pending the filing of a motion for reconsideration by Sereno.

Not a lawyer, I wanted to educate myself on what ‘quo warranto’ is all about and if it has all the legal basis in ousting an impeachable official like Sereno.

This is what I learned, and gladly sharing it with you, after I visited this site: https://oag.ca.gov/opinions/quo-warranto.

Quo warranto is a special form of legal action used to resolve a dispute over whether a specific person has the legal right to hold the public office that he or she occupies.

Quo warranto is used to test a person’s legal right to hold an office, not to evaluate the person’s performance in the office. For example, a quo warranto action may be brought to determine whether a public official satisfies a requirement that he or she resides in the district; or whether a public official is serving in two incompatible offices.

Quo warranto is not available to decide whether an official has committed misconduct in office. A person who commits misconduct in a public office may be penalized or even removed from office, but quo warranto is not the proper forum for those cases. Other processes are available for that purpose.

The term “quo warranto” (pronounced both kwoh wuh-rahn-toh, and kwoh wahr-un-toh) is Latin for “by what authority”—as in, “by what authority does this person hold this office?” The term “quo warranto” is still used today, even though the phrase no longer appears in the statutes.

Quo warranto originated in English common law as a process initiated by the crown to find out whether a person was legitimately exercising a privilege or office granted by the crown, or whether the person was instead intruding into a royal prerogative.

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End of the road for CJ Sereno

 

The way events are developing on the impeachment complaint and the quo warranto (Latin for “by what warrant or authority?”) petition against Supreme Court Chief Justice (SCCJ) Maria Lourdes Sereno, I could only surmise that she is nearing the end of her judicial career.

Well, at least Sereno has gone that far, high and mighty, which is the ultimate goal for all lawyers, but her reaching the zenith is what has brought her to her woes today.  Many have found it anomalous. She is facing impeachment for alleged betrayal of public trust, culpable violation of the constitution, and corruption.

It is bad enough that the House committee on justice has already approved the articles of impeachment against Sereno before Congress took a break and which the House plenary is expected to vote on the committee report recommending Sereno’s impeachment when Congress resumes mid-May.

Since the House is dominated by allies of President Rodrigo Duterte, it is now a certainty that the body will affirm the committee report such that Sereno will be deemed impeached.

The complaint will then be forwarded to the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, which has the power to convict or acquit impeachable officials.

But what is even making it worst for Sereno now is her explicit blaming of Duterte for the clamor to disqualify and oust her as head of the SC when, in one of her speeches recently, she asked Duterte to explain allegations that he was behind the impeachment complaints in the House of Representatives and the quo warranto case filed before the Supreme Court (SC) by Solicitor General Jose C. Calida.

“Mr. President, if you say that you have no hand in this, please explain why Solicitor General Calida, who reports to you, filed the quo warranto petition,” she said.

“Filipinos are smart. They understand. You do not need to spell out the truth for them. It cannot be denied that there is an unseen hand behind this,” she added.

Obviously, this did not sit well with Duterte, whom lawyer Larry Gadon cleared of any responsibility when he filed the impeachment complaints with the House of Representatives.

The more Duterte got piqued because all along he has denied all the allegations in connection with the impeachment complaints against Sereno.

In the same vein, Malacañang has always insisted that the president had no hand in the impeachment hearings and the quo warranto petition.

“I am putting you on notice that I am your enemy and you have to be out of the Supreme Court. I will request Congress to do it, the impeachment right away…. Kindly fast-track the impeachment,” said the angry Duterte.

Calling Sereno “bad for the Philippines,” he said Congress should act swiftly or else he would.

Those are tough words that Sereno should reckon with.

But what chance does Sereno really have when even the five Associate Justices, whom she asked to recuse from the case for testifying against her before the justice committee of the House, are set to deny her plea that they not participate in the quo warranto case filed against her by Solicitor General Jose Calida?

Indeed, not only is Duterte putting Sereno at the end of the road, but the Associate Justices themselves, namely, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza and Noel Tijam, are pushing the CJ over the edge of the road.

 

SC should heed Ombudsman request to reverse acquittal decision of Arroyo

 

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

In light of President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent daring exposé describing the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) as the most corrupt agency of government and the milking cow of some sectors, should it not only be fair and just that the Supreme Court (SC) heeds Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales’ request for reversal of its decision to acquit former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?

In his revelation Duterte even went to the extent saying that he is still looking for somebody who has the guts to kill “corrupt” people to head the PCSO.

Duterte was talking about exterminating gambling lords who have managed to incorporate the Small Town Lottery (STL) of the PCSO.

It must be remembered that the STL was intended to eradicate the illegal numbers games called ‘jueteng’ ‘masiao’ etc., but unfortunately it has failed in its objective and because the STL operations are not reporting its actual sales it has been reported that the government stands to lose at least P50 billion a year in revenues.

Duterte also added that these unscrupulous operators of the agency also co-opt bingo and lotto operations.

Duterte even added that whoever he would appoint PCSO chairman would have his blessing to kill anyone who would commit corruption in the PCSO.

This is how badly and disreputably PCSO is managed until now, which means to say that it could have been even worse during the time of ex-president Arroyo.

A testament to this unpleasant observation at PCSO is the statement issued by the Office of the Ombudsman saying that the former president was complicit in the whole scheme to raid the PCSO coffers. Proof of this is her dealing directly with PCSO and her supervision of the agency herself.

It is perhaps because of this anomalous dealing that Ombudsman Morales filed a motion for reconsideration with the SC asking for reversal of its decision to acquit Arroyo and strongly arguing that the plunder charges have strong legal and factual basis. The motion for reconsideration said “the prosecution was able to prove that P365,997,915.00 was repeatedly pilfered by the accused, in conspiracy with each other, from the Confidential and Intelligence Fund (CIF) of the PCSO from 2008 to 2010.”

The Office of the Ombudsman also said that documents presented by prosecutors were able to show that “the CIF was heavily increased by infusions under the written directive of Arroyo; and the amount of P365,997,915.00 withdrawn was actually received by ex-PCSO officials Rosario Uriarte and Sergio Valencia.”

Knowing how Arroyo run the presidency during her time and knowing now how corrupt-laden PCSO is according to Duterte, would it not be, again, justifiable that the SC re-visits Arroyo’s plunder case once more so we will know the real score?

Call for punishing clingy politicians laudable

 

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago

The move by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago calling for an inquiry, in aid of legislation, into elective officials’ practice of barricading their offices and calling for mass action to resist suspension or removal by authorities, is indeed very laudable.

I would have said timely, too, but why is it becoming the modus operandi among members of a political dynasty, starting only a few years back, of defying the law if and when the administrative charges against them calls for their suspension by the Ombudsman after investigation?

What I am saying is that this never was the case in the past where preventive suspension where openly and rudely challenged, but since this happened to former Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia, of the Garcia political clan, in 2013, and to former Laguna Governor ER Ejercito, of the Ejercito political clan, in 2014, lately Makati City Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr., of the Binay political dynasty, took advantage of the situation, defying the law once more with the help of his supporters and sycophants who barricaded and made sure Binay stays as the mayor.

“I am alarmed that the brazen act of resisting suspension is becoming normal practice. What makes elective officials think that they are indisputably entitled to their offices? They are not absolute rulers, they are subject to the law,” Santiago said.

Citing the Garcia, Ejercito and Binay cases, Santiago added, saying, “In all these cases, the officials facing penalty insisted on due process yet refused to respect the same. This contradiction only shows how self-serving our elective officials have become.”

Santiago deplored the barricades in favor of elective officials being penalized as it threatens, as usual, to disrupt the delivery of public services.

I think all agrees with Santiago’s observation.

“While officials are entitled to relief from penalty, in the form of temporary restraining orders or injunctions, they must seek such from the proper venue and, pending such relief, humbly step down from office,” Santiago said.

For politicians, who display arrogantly the gecko grip to their seat of power, giving up their authority and mandate, despite serious accusations against their acts, is the most embarrassing thing to do, thus, the defiance.

Again, Santiago’s call for an inquiry on the matter of clingy politicians is laudable, but perhaps it has to wait until we all know what the Supreme Court has to say after hearing the oral arguments on the Ombudsman’s power to suspend Makati City Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr.

Plunder case against Sen. Estrada gets SC nod

 

Detained Sen. Jinggoy Estrada

Detained Sen. Jinggoy Estrada

It looks like the grace of God continues to linger even after the pope has gone home.

We were all pleased to hear Pope Francis gave a piece of his mind that our country doesn’t deserve to have corrupt officials when he said: “It is now, more than ever, necessary that political leaders be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good.”

The more that we should all feel elated now that the Supreme Court (SC) has issued a thumbs up sign supporting the Ombudsman’s decision to charge Senator Jinggoy Estrada with plunder and 11 counts of graft in connection with the alleged misuse of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or better known as pork barrel.

It must be remembered that the Ombudsman, on April 1, 2014, approved the filing of plunder and graft charges against Estrada and Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., as well as alleged pork scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles, in the Sandiganbayan.

Some time in June 2014, however, Estrada asked the Supreme Court to stop the Sandiganbayan from proceeding with the plunder and graft cases filed against him.

In a 65-page petition for certiorari, Estrada through lawyer Sabino Acut Jr. also asked the high court to nullify the joint resolution dated March 28, 2014 and June 4, 2014 issued by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales finding probable cause to prosecute him for plunder and violation of the anti-graft law.

“The continuation of further proceedings against Senator Estrada by the Office of the Ombudsman, which has been ousted of its jurisdiction by virtue of its violation of Senator Estrada’s constitutional rights, as well as the proceedings before the Sandiganbayan, will work injustice and cause grave and irreparable injury to him as he will be required to go through the hardship of submitting himself to trial , which would tend to render any judgment in this petition ineffectual,” the petition stated.

Apparently, this plea was not impressive and moving enough such that the SC voted 9-5 to dismiss Estrada’s motion for failure to substantiate the allegations in his petition.

Estrada allegedly received kickbacks amounting to P183.79 million; Enrile, P172.8 million, and Revilla, P224.5 million.

It may take time to hear the verdict, guilty or not, for these unscrupulous public servants, but hopefully whoever wins the presidency in 2016 election and beyond will have the political will to pursue the cases against the erring public officials if he has the interest of the nation and the welfare of the Filipino people foremost in his mind.

There is simply no room for mercy and compassion for people, especially government officials, who have made corruption as a corner stone of their public service.

Aquino buries hatchet against the judiciary

President Benigno Aquino and Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno Maria

President Benigno Aquino and Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno

It beats everybody what made President Benigno Aquino (PNoy) change his mind about Chief Justice (CJ) Maria Lourdes Sereno and the Supreme Court (SC), but it was sure a nice and welcome gesture when he urged Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad and Congress leaders to comply with all SC rulings.

Somehow it brings relief to the Filipinos that instead of bickering with one another, the three equal branches of government are coming together with greater understanding and respect for one another.

Thank goodness, it finally dawned on PNoy that as a leader he should respect the independence and integrity of the SC, it being the final arbiter and interpreter of the law as delegated y the Constitution.

It should be remembered that months before, PNoy always took a potshot at the high court, when occasion warranted, for striking down as unconstitutional certain acts under his administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

This time, however, during PNoy’s speech at the Second State Conference on the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), which was attended by CJ Sereno, Senate President Franklin Drilon, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and other members of the legislature, the president told Abad to immediately address the judiciary’s financial needs to carry out its reforms.

PNoy also exhorted Congress leaders to do their share, saying, “Since the approving authority is present also, perhaps we can talk to them for the speedy inclusion of what is necessary to help the judiciary in our common fight against corruption, making sure that we are complaint with all the directives from them.”

This, after Sereno, in her speech in the same event, called on the administration to increase funding for the SC’s efforts to modernize the judiciary and in the process minimize and/or eliminate corruption in her department.

“We continue to push for the modernization of our courts and the automation of our processes. We strongly believe that technology can be an effective anti-corruption tool as it minimizes the areas of human intervention,” Sereno said.

“Such initiatives require funding, and that is the reason why we continue to appeal for additional budgetary support,” she added.

The top magistrate said the judiciary is serious in weeding out its corrupt members and to prove, she cited the case of former Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Gregory Ong who was had been dismissed over links with alleged pork barrel fund scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.

With the hatchet being buried and the determination to defeat corruption is stronger now in the judiciary, the support given by the executive and legislative leaders, hopefully, should usher a new beginning of a speedy grind and fast resolution of justice in the country.

EDCA is no panacea to military aggression

Solicitor General Florin Hilbay

Solicitor General Florin Hilbay

Solicitor General Florin Hilbay may have defended well the country’s Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United State, when he appeared before the Supreme Court (SC) to answer petitions filed by some group contesting its legality, but the reality of it is that EDCA is no panacea to military aggression either by China or by any other country for that matter.

It is what it is described to be – to enhance our capability to defend ourselves from any aggression, but it does not mean the direct participation of the US forces, side by side with Filipinos, in defense of our territorial sovereignty.

The EDCA is a 10-year deal that allows a bigger American military presence in the country for the purpose of training Filipino soldiers, building structures, storing and positioning weapons, defense supplies and materiel, stationing troops, civilian personnel and defense contractors, transiting and stationing vehicles, vessels, and aircraft in agreed locations.

Suffice to say that the EDCA does not guarantee that the US will come to the aid of the Philippines in case of an armed conflict in the contested South China Sea.

This was confirmed by Hilbay, when Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio asked the former if EDCA ensured US assistance in the event of an armed conflict between the Philippines and China.

“I don’t want you to tell the world that we can rely on EDCA for our defense,” Carpio said.

“We are not saying that the EDCA is the answer to all our problems. What we are saying is that the EDCA will improve our facilities,” Hilbay responded.

So, there you go. The question now is: Is EDCA still relevant?

For being poor and militarily weak, what else could be more relevant than having EDCA improve our military capabilities in any way, shape and form?

Having military alliances with equally powerful countries like Japan and Australia, as it exists now, are advantageous for the country and should be continuously maintained and developed.

But what the Filipinos should learn from the EDCA oral arguments before the SC is that there should happen drastically a self-renewal or a self-revolution, if you may, amongst us in the way we live our ideals and beliefs politically and socially anchored on correct moral values and principles so that we could start making a strong statement that what this country needs are competent, responsible, honest and selfless public servants whose aim would be to stump graft and corruption in government, improve lives of people and develop the country to greatness, both economically and militarily, so that we can protect ourselves and the country adequately by our own means.

Let it not be said that there is no money. There is sufficient, but for as long as it is expended by unscrupulous people, in the guise of public leaders and public servants, for the wrong purpose, then the nation suffers, making us all vulnerable and victims of our own folly.