In a fit of righteous indignation, 14 senators have taken it upon themselves to question the Supreme Court’s decision to unseat Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, saying they alone, sitting as judges in an impeachment trial, may remove a sitting chief magistrate.In so doing, the senators suggest they know more than the Supreme Court itself, which under our democratic system, is the final arbiter of the law.
The premise of the 14 senators is as simple as it is presumptuous.
First, it notes that under the Constitution, members of the Supreme Court may only be removed from office by impeachment.
Second, that the House of Representatives has the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment, and that the Senate has the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment.
Third, the Supreme Court’s decision to grant the quo warranto petition sets a dangerous precedent that transgresses the exclusive powers of the legislative branch to initiate, try and then decide all cases of impeachment.
The senators therefore resolved “to express the sense of the Senate to uphold the Constitution on the matter of removing a chief justice from office, and respectfully urge the Supreme Court to review its decision to nullify the appointment” of Sereno.
The resolution seems muted in comparison to the statements issued by opposition senators who initiated it, but even the addition of the word “respectfully” is inadequate to hide its presumptuousness and ultimately, its lack of respect for a separate and co-equal branch of government.
Ironically, the same resolution that intrudes on the judicial branch speaks of the need for all co-equal branches to work in harmony.
What the 14 senators choose to ignore is that quo warranto process is distinct and separate from impeachment.
The quo warranto case argues that Sereno was never qualified to be a chief justice in the first place, and that she held that position illegally from the time she was appointed in 2012. As such, she enjoys no protection as an impeachable official.
None of this takes away from the exclusive right of the House to initiate impeachment proceedings, or the Senate’s right to try and decide such cases.
Some senators, such as Senator Panfilo Lacson, correctly point out that it is premature to even speak of transgressing legislative prerogatives, simply because the separate impeachment case against Sereno has not progressed beyond the House committee of justice. No articles of impeachment have been approved by the House plenary, and none have been transmitted to the Senate for trial.
This seems self-evident.
But the Senate move to push the resolution isn’t really about protecting the Constitution. It’s about using the Sereno case for political posturing. Some of these same, fine senators chose to remain silent when the previous administration trampled upon the Constitution. One of them, a former Justice secretary, even defied a Supreme Court order.
Perhaps feeling a little self-important, some members of the majority bloc—including the Senate president—have allowed themselves to be roped into signing the resolution, too, believing this is an admirable show of independence. It is their right of course, like it is the right of anybody to speak their mind—even when they are wrong.
The more respectful approach, of course, would have been to file a petition before the Court to reconsider its decision. But the 14 senators clearly were not interested in showing respect.