Issue of May 13, 2018

70th Courier Anniversary Issue
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"Quo warranted"

I thought that by now, our countrymen would have a good grasp of what quo warranto means because the explanation of the term is quite extensive. Practically, every day since the petition for quo warranto was filed against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno by Solicitor-General Jose Calida, newspapers and broadcast media have been abuzz discussing its merits. I was proven wrong. Many are still in a quandary on what this petition is all about.

Last Wednesday, while I was having my regular haircut, my barber caught me by surprise by asking, “Apay Attorney, ma-quowarranted ngata ni Sereno?” In courteous reply, I corrected him by saying; “Manong, haan nga quo warranted, awan ti quo warranted. Ti in-file da laban ken Justice Sereno ket quo warranto.” He gave an awry smile and pressed on by arguing that: “Apay mabalin aya daydiay, kuna met ni Sereno nga nu ikaten da kanu isuna ket masapul nga ejectment.” I almost jerked from my seat but I held back and instead courteously answered him: “Manong, haan nga ejectment, impeachment.” After a momentary silence and after contemplating the depth of his argument, he suddenly blurted out in a very confident manner that: “Awan sammet pagsablian na, quo warranted, quo warranto, ejectment, impeachment, isu met laeng, ikkateten dan tu met laeng isuna, pabpabayagen da lang.

There is a wide range of difference between quo warranto and impeachment. While they may result in the same conclusion, i.e. removal from office, the former is one that is directed against a usurper whereas the latter is directed against a legitimate official. A usurper is a public official who, from the very start, had no authority to hold the office he occupies. Hence, a quo warranto is not proper if a person has a legitimate title to an office.

On the other hand, there are only a handful of public officials who may be impeached. A quo warranto is a judicial proceeding that may be filed against any public official who has no authority to occupy his post whereas impeachment is a legislative function that only applies to the president, vice president, justices of the Supreme Court, and heads of constitutional bodies. While the Constitution does not specifically use the word “only” to qualify impeachment as the single mode of removing impeachable officers, it is implied that it is so.

This is what makes the quo warranto case filed against Sereno controversial. Invoking constitutional singularity, she asserts that the court has no authority to take cognizance of it. Calida claims otherwise. He asserts that the court can rule upon the case because the respondent’s appointment as Chief Justice was never valid from the onset. By failing to comply with the very basic requirement of submitting her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth, the magistrate was never qualified to the Supreme Court’s highest position. Accordingly, she falls within the category of a usurper.

If we look back into history, Sereno is not really the first impeachable officer against whom a case for quo warranto was filed. In 1975, no less than Benigno Aquino Jr. (yes, the father of Noynoy whose minions are questioning the propriety of the quo warranto case) and several others filed a petition (Aquino, Jr. et. al. vs. Comelec, 62, SCRA 294) questioning the appropriation of public funds for a referendum to ratify the declaration of Martial Law. While the petition was for prohibition, the Supreme Court considered it as a quo warranto case filed against (then) president Ferdinand Marcos because it questioned his qualification to declare Martial Law. Of course, the factual circumstances surrounding that case is different from that of the Chief Justice. However, the point being stressed here is that impeachable officers may be subjected to quo warranto proceedings.

Anyway, whether or not the quo warranto case that was filed will be given due course or whether or not it can supersede an impeachment complaint, it is all up to the Supreme Court to decide. After all, the High Tribunal is supposed to be the interpreter of laws and whatever it decides upon forms part of the law of the land.

As I write this article, I read in the news that there is already a draft resolution granting the quo warranto with nine Justices voting for the ouster of Sereno. If this is true, all that I can hope for is that justice and fairness will be served by whatever decision the Supreme Court will come out with concerning this sensitive issue.

For the sake of our country and our people, I pray that this will not become a divisive matter and its outcome will be accepted with an open mind by every Filipino.

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