A world of difference.
After the Supreme Court’s ruling ousting Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno created a firestorm of indignant protest, those who are supportive of the decision tried to counter the widespread criticism by bringing up the impeachment and subsequent conviction of former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
“Remember what the Aquino administration did to Corona? You reaped what you sow,” was their typical comment.
“You celebrated Corona’s conviction but now Sereno suffered the same fate, you complain?” They said.
John Nery, associate editor and opinion columnist of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI), was not able to stop himself from tweeting this fully-loaded, acerbic response:
So can we really say that what happened to Malou Sereno is just a repeat of what happened to the late Rene Corona?
To clear things out, here are the differences between the cases of the two top magistrates of the land.
First, Corona was removed after being impeached by the House of Representatives and after his subsequent conviction by the Senate acting as an impeachment court. This, as posited by numerous law deans and professors, legal luminaries, former justices of the Supreme Court and law groups led by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), is the only constitutional and legal way of kicking out from office an impeachable public officer like the chief justice.
Sereno, on the other hand, was ousted through an unprecedented judicial decision on a quo warranto petition filed by the executive branch through its solicitor general.
Quo warranto is a remedy provided under the rules of court where the authority of a public officer to hold office is questioned on the ground that he or she lacked the required qualifications. It can be used against all public officials except the impeachable officers specifically and specially mentioned in the constitution such as the chief justice that, to reiterate, can be removed by impeachment only.
Quo warranto, being a mere procedure under the rules of court, cannot prevail over the constitution, the latter being the most paramount and fundamental law of the land.
Secondly, Corona was given the full benefit of his right to due process as, in fact, he himself was given his day in the impeachment court and was able to testify.
Sereno, because the high court’s ruling was railroaded in order to preempt the transmittal of the impeachment complaint from the lower house to the Senate, was deprived of her constitutional rights to due process, to be heard and presumption of innocence.
Third, it was sufficiently proven that Corona committed an impeachable offense when he himself admitted that he has cash deposits and real estate properties that were not declared in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Networth (SALN). Moreover, these undeclared assets are disproportionate to his legal income, thus, creating the presumption that the same are ill-gotten.
While Sereno was never accused of owning hidden and undeclared properties. The crux of the petition against her was centered on her alleged failure to submit all her SALNs to the Judicial Bar Council (JBC) when she was screened and vetted as a candidate for chief justice. However, records will show that the JBC relaxed its rules and actually waived the requirement for all aspirants to submit their complete SALNs.
This was confirmed by Senator Francis Escudero, a member of the JBC representing the legislature from 2008 to 2013, who said that the leniency of the new rule on SALN where “substantial compliance” was enough was adopted even before Sereno applied as top judge of the country.
Fourth, the removal of Corona by an overwhelming vote from both House and the Senate was not only in accordance with the 1987 Philippine constitution but was, in fact, an actual affirmation that the basic principles of constitutional democracy are alive and working in the country.
On the contrary, the ouster of Sereno, done in the most repugnant violation of established legal principles in our jurisdiction, has resulted to the tragic rape of both the constitution and the democratic ideals it espouses.
It will be misleading and fallacious to claim that the ruling ousting Sereno is equivalent or similar to the decision of the duly-constituted impeachment court that convicted and removed Corona in 2012. What happened to Corona was constitutional democracy in action while Sereno was a victim of an unconstitutional judicial coup d’ėtat.