DIGEST: Republic v. Sereno (G.R. No. 237428, May 11, 2018)

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REPUBLIC of the PHILIPPINES, represented by SOLICITOR GENERAL JOSE C. CALIDA v. MARIA LOURDES P.A. SERENO,

G.R. No. 237428, May 11, 2018 [J. Tijam, En Banc]

DOCTRINE OF THE CASE:

Quo warranto as a remedy to oust an ineligible public official may be availed of when the subject act or omission was committed prior to or at the time of appointment or election relating to an official’s qualifications to hold office as to render such appointment or election invalid. Acts or omissions, even if it relates to the qualification of integrity being a continuing requirement but nonetheless committed during the incumbency of a validly appointed and/or validly elected official cannot be the subject of a quo warranto proceeding, but of impeachment if the public official concerned is impeachable and the act or omission constitutes an impeachable offense, or to disciplinary, administrative or criminal action, if otherwise.

FACTS:

From 1986 to 2006, Sereno served as a member of the faculty of the University of the Philippines-College of Law. While being employed at the UP Law, or from October 2003 to 2006, Sereno was concurrently employed as legal counsel of the Republic in two international arbitrations known as the PIATCO cases, and a Deputy Commissioner of the Commissioner on Human Rights.

The Human Resources Development Office of UP (UP HRDO) certified that there was no record on Sereno’s file of any permission to engage in limited practice of profession. Moreover, out of her 20 years of employment, only nine (9) Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) were on the records of UP HRDO. In a manifestation, she attached a copy of a tenth SALN, which she supposedly sourced from the “filing cabinets” or “drawers of UP”. The Ombudsman likewise had no record of any SALN filed by Sereno. The JBC has certified to the existence of one SALN. In sum, for 20 years of service, 11 SALNs were recovered.

On August 2010, Sereno was appointed as Associate Justice. On 2012, the position of Chief Justice was declared vacant, and the JBC directed the applicants to submit documents, among which are “all previous SALNs up to December 31, 2011” for those in the government and “SALN as of December 31, 2011” for those from the private sector. The JBC announcement further provided that “applicants with incomplete or out-of-date documentary requirements will not be interviewed or considered for nomination.” Sereno expressed in a letter to JBC that since she resigned from UP Law on 2006 and became a private practitioner, she was treated as coming from the private sector and only submitted three (3) SALNs or her SALNs from the time she became an Associate Justice. Sereno likewise added that “considering that most of her government records in the academe are more than 15 years old, it is reasonable to consider it infeasible to retrieve all of those files,” and that the clearance issued by UP HRDO and CSC should be taken in her favor. There was no record that the letter was deliberated upon. Despite this, on a report to the JBC, Sereno was said to have “complete requirements.” On August 2012, Sereno was appointed Chief Justice.

On August 2017, an impeachment complaint was filed by Atty. Larry Gadon against Sereno, alleging that Sereno failed to make truthful declarations in her SALNs. The House of Representatives proceeded to hear the case for determination of probable cause, and it was said that Justice Peralta, the chairman of the JBC then, was not made aware of the incomplete SALNs of Sereno. Other findings were made: such as pieces of jewelry amounting to P15,000, that were not declared on her 1990 SALN, but was declared in prior years’ and subsequent years’ SALNs, failure of her husband to sign one SALN, execution of the 1998 SALN only in 2003

On February 2018, Atty. Eligio Mallari wrote to the OSG, requesting that the latter, in representation of the Republic, initiate a quo warranto proceeding against Sereno. The OSG, invoking the Court’s original jurisdiction under Section 5(1), Article VIII of the Constitution in relation to the special civil action under Rule 66, the Republic, through the OSG filed the petition for the issuance of the extraordinary writ of quo warranto to declare as void Sereno’s appointment as CJ of the SC and to oust and altogether exclude Sereno therefrom. [yourlawyersays]

Capistrano, Sen. De Lima, Sen. Trillianes, et. al., intervened. Sereno then filed a Motion for Inhibition against AJ Bersamin, Peralta, Jardeleza, Tijam, and Leonardo-De Castro, imputing actual bias for having testified against her on the impeachment hearing before the House of Representatives.

Contentions:

Office of the Solicitor General (petitioner):

OSG argues that the quo warranto is an available remedy because what is being sought is to question the validity of her appointment, while the impeachment complaint accuses her of committing culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust while in office, citing Funa v. Chairman Villar, Estrada v. Desierto and Nacionalista Party v. De Vera. OSG maintains that the phrase “may be removed from office” in Section 2, Article XI of the Constitution means that Members of the SC may be removed through modes other than impeachment.

OSG contends that it is seasonably filed within the one-year reglementary period under Section 11, Rule 66 since Sereno’s transgressions only came to light during the impeachment proceedings. Moreover, OSG claims that it has an imprescriptible right to bring a quo warranto petition under the maxim nullum tempus occurit regi (“no time runs against the king”) or prescription does not operate against the government. The State has a continuous interest in ensuring that those who partake of its sovereign powers are qualified. Even assuming that the one-year period is applicable to the OSG, considering that SALNs are not published, the OSG will have no other means by which to know the disqualification.

Moreover, OSG maintains that the SC has jurisdiction, citing A.M. No. 10-4-20-SC which created a permanent Committee on Ethics and Ethical Standards, tasked to investigate complaints involving graft and corruption and ethical violations against members of the SC and contending that this is not a political question because such issue may be resolved through the interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution, laws, JBC rules, and Canons of Judicial Ethics.

OSG seeks to oust Sereno from her position as CJ on the ground that Sereno failed to show that she is a person of proven integrity which is an indispensable qualification for membership in the Judiciary under Section 7(3), Article VIII of the Constitution. According to the OSG, because OSG failed to fulfill the JBC requirement of filing the complete SALNs, her integrity remains unproven. The failure to submit her SALN, which is a legal obligation, should have disqualified Sereno from being a candidate; therefore, she has no right to hold the office. Good faith cannot be considered as a defense since the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (RA No. 3019) and Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (RA No. 6713) are special laws and are thus governed by the concept of malum prohibitum, wherein malice or criminal intent is completely immaterial.

Sereno (respondent):

Sereno contends that an impeachable officer may only be ousted through impeachment, citing Section 2 of Article XI of the Constitution, and Mayor Lecaroz v. Sandiganbayan, Cuenca v. Hon. Fernan, In Re: First lndorsement from Hon. Gonzales, and Re: Complaint-Affidavit for Disbarment Against SAJ Antonio T. Carpio. Sereno contends that the clear intention of the framers of the Constitution was to create an exclusive category of public officers who can be removed only by impeachment and not otherwise. Impeachment was chosen as the method of removing certain high-ranking government officers to shield them from harassment suits that will prevent them from performing their functions which are vital to the continued operations of government. Sereno further argues that the word “may” on Section 2 of Article XI only qualifies the penalty imposable after the impeachment trial, i.e., removal from office. Sereno contends that the since the mode is wrong, the SC has no jurisdiction.

Sereno likewise argues that the cases cited by OSG is not in all fours with the present case because the President and the Vice President may, in fact, be removed by means other than impeachment on the basis of Section 4, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution vesting in the Court the power to be the “sole judge” of all contests relating to the qualifications of the President and the Vice-President. There is no such provision for other impeachable officers. Moreover, on the rest of the cases cited by the OSG, there is no mention that quo warranto may be allowed.

Sereno also argues that since a petition for quo warranto may be filed before the RTC, such would result to a conundrum because a judge of lower court would have effectively exercised disciplinary power and administrative supervision over an official of the Judiciary much higher in rank and is contrary to Sections 6 and 11, Article VIII of the Constitution which vests upon the SC disciplinary and administrative power over all courts and the personnel thereof.

Sereno likewise posits that if a Member of the SC can be ousted through quo warranto initiated by the OSG, the Congress’ “check” on the SC through impeachment would be rendered inutile.

Furthermore, Sereno argues that it is already time-barred. Section 11, Rule 66 provides that a petition for quo warranto must be filed within one (1) year from the “cause of ouster” and not from the “discovery” of the disqualification.

Moreover, Sereno contends that the Court cannot presume that she failed to file her SALNs because as a public officer, she enjoys the presumption that her appointment to office was regular. OSG failed to overcome the presumption created by the certifications from UP HRDO that she had been cleared of all administrative responsibilities and charges. Her integrity is a political question which can only be decided by the JBC and the President.

Regarding her missing SALNs, Sereno contends that the fact that SALNs are missing cannot give rise to the inference that they are not filed. The fact that 11 SALNs were filed should give an inference to a pattern of filing, not of non-filing.

Intervenors’ arguments:

The intervenors argue that it is not incumbent upon Sereno to prove to the JBC that she possessed the integrity required by the Constitution; rather, the onus of determining whether or not she qualified for the post fell upon the JBC. Moreover, submission of SALNs is not a constitutional requirement; what is only required is the imprimatur of the JBC. The intervenors likewise contend that “qualifications” such as citizenship, age, and experience are enforceable while “characteristics” such as competence, integrity, probity, and independence are mere subjective considerations.

ISSUES:

Preliminary issues:

  1. Whether the Court should entertain the motion for intervention
  2. Whether the Court should grant the motion for the inhibition of Sereno against five Justices

Main Issues:

  1. Whether the Court can assume jurisdiction and give due course to the instant petition for quo warranto.
  2. Whether Sereno may be the respondent in a quo warranto proceeding notwithstanding the fact that an impeachment complaint has already been filed with the House of Representatives.
  3. Whether Sereno, who is an impeachable officer, can be the respondent in a quo warranto proceeding, i.e., whether the only way to remove an impeachable officer is impeachment.
  4. Whether to take cognizance of the quo warranto proceeding is violative of the principle of separation of powers
  5. Whether the petition is outrightly dismissible on the ground of prescription
  6. Whether the determination of a candidate’s eligibility for nomination is the sole and exclusive function of the JBC and whether such determination. partakes of the character of a political question outside the Court’s supervisory and review powers;
  7. Whether the filing of SALN is a constitutional and statutory requirement for the position of Chief Justice.
  8. If answer to ninth issue is in the affirmative, whether Sereno failed to file her SALNs as mandated by the Constitution and required by the law and its implementing rules and regulations
  9. If answer to ninth issue is in the affirmative, whether Sereno filed SALNs are not filed properly and promptly.
  10. Whether Sereno failed to comply with the submission of SALNs as required by the JBC
  11. If answer to the twelfth issue is in the affirmative, whether the failure to submit SALNs to the JBC voids the nomination and appointment of Sereno as Chief Justice;
  12. In case of a finding that Sereno is ineligible to hold the position of Chief Justice, whether the subsequent nomination by the JBC and the appointment by the President cured such ineligibility.
  13. Whether Sereno is a de jure or a de facto officer.

[READ: Justice Leonen’s dissenting opinion: Q&A Format]

HELD:

Anent the first issue: The intervention is improper.

Intervention is a remedy by which a third party, not originally impleaded in the proceedings, becomes a litigant therein for a certain purpose: to enable the third party to protect or preserve a right or interest that may be affected by those proceedings. The remedy of intervention is not a matter of right but rests on the sound discretion of the court upon compliance with the first requirement on legal interest and the second requirement that no delay and prejudice should result. The justification of one’s “sense of patriotism and their common desire to protect and uphold the Philippine Constitution”, and that of the Senator De Lima’s and Trillanes’ intervention that their would-be participation in the impeachment trial as Senators-judges if the articles of impeachment will be filed before the Senate as the impeachment court will be taken away is not sufficient. The interest contemplated by law must be actual, substantial, material, direct and immediate, and not simply contingent or expectant. Moreover, the petition of quo warranto is brought in the name of the Republic. It is vested in the people, and not in any private individual or group, because disputes over title to public office are viewed as a public question of governmental legitimacy and not merely a private quarrel among rival claimants.

Anent the second issue: There is no basis for the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court to inhibit in the case.

It is true that a judge has both the duty of rendering a just decision and the duty of doing it in a manner completely free from suspicion as to its fairness and as to his integrity. However, the right of a party to seek the inhibition or disqualification of a judge who does not appear to be wholly free, disinterested, impartial and independent in handling the case must be balanced with the latter’s sacred duty to decide cases without fear of repression. Bias must be proven with clear and convincing evidence. Those justices who were present at the impeachment proceedings were armed with the requisite imprimatur of the Court En Banc, given that the Members are to testify only on matters within their personal knowledge. The mere imputation of bias or partiality is not enough ground for inhibition, especially when the charge is without basis. There must be acts or conduct clearly indicative of arbitrariness or prejudice before it can brand them with the stigma of bias or partiality. Sereno’s call for inhibition has been based on speculations, or on distortions of the language, context and meaning of the answers the Justices may have given as sworn witnesses in the proceedings before the House.

Moreover, insinuations that the Justices of the SC are towing the line of President Duterte in entertaining the quo warranto petition must be struck for being unfounded and for sowing seeds of mistrust and discordance between the Court and the public. The Members of the Court are beholden to no one, except to the sovereign Filipino people who ordained and promulgated the Constitution. It is thus inappropriate to misrepresent that the SolGen who has supposedly met consistent litigation success before the SG shall likewise automatically and positively be received in the present quo warranto action. As a collegial body, the Supreme Court adjudicates without fear or favor. The best person to determine the propriety of sitting in a case rests with the magistrate sought to be disqualified. [yourlawyersays]

Anent the third issue: A quo warranto petition is allowed against impeachable officials and SC has jurisdiction.

The SC have concurrent jurisdiction with the CA and RTC to issue the extraordinary writs, including quo warranto. A direct invocation of the SC’s original jurisdiction to issue such writs is allowed when there are special and important reasons therefor, and in this case, direct resort to SC is justified considering that the action is directed against the Chief Justice. Granting that the petition is likewise of transcendental importance and has far-reaching implications, the Court is empowered to exercise its power of judicial review. To exercise restraint in reviewing an impeachable officer’s appointment is a clear renunciation of a judicial duty. an outright dismissal of the petition based on speculation that Sereno will eventually be tried on impeachment is a clear abdication of the Court’s duty to settle actual controversy squarely presented before it. Quo warranto proceedings are essentially judicial in character – it calls for the exercise of the Supreme Court’s constitutional duty and power to decide cases and settle actual controversies. This constitutional duty cannot be abdicated or transferred in favor of, or in deference to, any other branch of the government including the Congress, even as it acts as an impeachment court through the Senate.

To differentiate from impeachment, quo warranto involves a judicial determination of the eligibility or validity of the election or appointment of a public official based on predetermined rules while impeachment is a political process to vindicate the violation of the public’s trust. In quo warranto proceedings referring to offices filled by appointment, what is determined is the legality of the appointment. The title to a public office may not be contested collaterally but only directly, by quo warranto proceedings. usurpation of a public office is treated as a public wrong and carries with it public interest, and as such, it shall be commenced by a verified petition brought in the name of the Republic of the Philippines through the Solicitor General or a public prosecutor. The SolGen is given permissible latitude within his legal authority in actions for quo warranto, circumscribed only by the national interest and the government policy on the matter at hand.

Anent the fourth issue: Simultaneous quo warranto proceeding and impeachment proceeding is not forum shopping and is allowed.

Quo warranto and impeachment may proceed independently of each other as these remedies are distinct as to (1) jurisdiction (2) grounds, (3) applicable rules pertaining to initiation, filing and dismissal, and (4) limitations. Forum shopping is the act of a litigant who repetitively availed of several judicial remedies in different courts, simultaneously or successively, all substantially founded on the same transactions and the same essential facts and circumstances, and all raising substantially the same issues, either pending in or already resolved adversely by some other court, to increase his chances of obtaining a favorable decision if not in one court, then in another. The test for determining forum shopping is whether in the two (or more) cases pending, there is identity of parties, rights or causes of action, and reliefs sought. The crux of the controversy in this quo warranto proceedings is the determination of whether or not Sereno legally holds the Chief Justice position to be considered as an impeachable officer in the first place. On the other hand, impeachment is for respondent’s prosecution for certain impeachable offenses. Simply put, while Sereno’s title to hold a public office is the issue in quo warranto proceedings, impeachment necessarily presupposes that Sereno legally holds the public office and thus, is an impeachable officer, the only issue being whether or not she committed impeachable offenses to warrant her removal from office.

Moreover, the reliefs sought are different. respondent in a quo warranto proceeding shall be adjudged to cease from holding a public office, which he/she is ineligible to hold. Moreover, impeachment, a conviction for the charges of impeachable offenses shall result to the removal of the respondent from the public office that he/she is legally holding. It is not legally possible to impeach or remove a person from an office that he/she, in the first place, does not and cannot legally hold or occupy.

Lastly, there can be no forum shopping because the impeachment proceedings before the House is not the impeachment case proper, since it is only a determination of probable cause. The impeachment case is yet to be initiated by the filing of the Articles of Impeachment before the Senate. Thus, at the moment, there is no pending impeachment case against Sereno. The process before the House is merely inquisitorial and is merely a means of discovering if a person may be reasonably charged with a crime.

Anent the fifth issue: Impeachment is not an exclusive remedy by which an invalidly appointed or invalidly elected impeachable official may be removed from office.

The language of Section 2, Article XI of the Constitution does not foreclose a quo warranto action against impeachable officers: “Section 2. The President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Supreme Court, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.” The provision uses the permissive term “may” which denote discretion and cannot be construed as having a mandatory effect, indicative of a mere possibility, an opportunity, or an option. In American jurisprudence, it has been held that “the express provision for removal by impeachment ought not to be taken as a tacit prohibition of removal by other methods when there are other adequate reasons to account for this express provision.”

The principle in case law is that during their incumbency, impeachable officers cannot be criminally prosecuted for an offense that carries with it the penalty of removal, and if they are required to be members of the Philippine Bar to qualify for their positions, they cannot be charged with disbarment. The proscription does not extend to actions assailing the public officer’s title or right to the office he or she occupies. Even the PET Rules expressly provide for the remedy of either an election protest or a petition for quo warranto to question the eligibility of the President and the Vice-President, both of whom are impeachable officers.

Further, that the enumeration of “impeachable offenses” is made absolute, that is, only those enumerated offenses are treated as grounds for impeachment, is not equivalent to saying that the enumeration likewise purport to be a complete statement of the causes of removal from office. If other causes of removal are available, then other modes of ouster can likewise be availed. To subscribe to the view that appointments or election of impeachable officers are outside judicial review is to cleanse their appointments or election of any possible defect pertaining to the Constitutionally-prescribed qualifications which cannot otherwise be raised in an impeachment proceeding. To hold otherwise is to allow an absurd situation where the appointment of an impeachable officer cannot be questioned even when, for instance, he or she has been determined to be of foreign nationality or, in offices where Bar membership is a qualification, when he or she fraudulently represented to be a member of the Bar.

Anent the sixth issue: The Supreme Court’s exercise of its jurisdiction over a quo warranto petition is not violative of the doctrine of separation of powers.

The Court’s assumption of jurisdiction over an action for quo warranto involving a person who would otherwise be an impeachable official had it not been for a disqualification, is not violative of the core constitutional provision that impeachment cases shall be exclusively tried and decided by the Senate. Again, the difference between quo warranto and impeachment must be emphasized. An action for quo warranto does not try a person’s culpability of an impeachment offense, neither does a writ of quo warranto conclusively pronounce such culpability. The Court’s exercise of its jurisdiction over quo warranto proceedings does not preclude Congress from enforcing its own prerogative of determining probable cause for impeachment, to craft and transmit the Articles of Impeachment, nor will it preclude Senate from exercising its constitutionally committed power of impeachment.

However, logic, common sense, reason, practicality and even principles of plain arithmetic bear out the conclusion that an unqualified public official should be removed from the position immediately if indeed Constitutional and legal requirements were not met or breached. To abdicate from resolving a legal controversy simply because of perceived availability of another remedy, in this case impeachment, would be to sanction the initiation of a process specifically intended to be long and arduous and compel the entire membership of the Legislative branch to momentarily abandon their legislative duties to focus on impeachment proceedings for the possible removal of a public official, who at the outset, may clearly be unqualified under existing laws and case law.

For guidance, the Court demarcates that an act or omission committed prior to or at the time of appointment or election relating to an official’s qualifications to hold office as to render such appointment or election invalid is properly the subject of a quo warranto petition, provided that the requisites for the commencement thereof are present. Contrariwise, acts or omissions, even if it relates to the qualification of integrity, being a continuing requirement but nonetheless committed during the incumbency of a validly appointed and/or validly elected official, cannot be the subject of a quo warranto proceeding, but of something else, which may either be impeachment if the public official concerned is impeachable and the act or omission constitutes an impeachable offense, or disciplinary, administrative or criminal action, if otherwise.

Anent the seventh issue: Prescription does not lie against the State.

The rules on quo warranto provides that “nothing contained in this Rule shall be construed to authorize an action against a public officer or employee for his ouster from office unless the same be commenced within one (1) year after the cause of such ouster, or the right of the petitioner to hold such office or position, arose”. Previously, the one-year prescriptive period has been applied in cases where private individuals asserting their right of office, unlike the instant case where no private individual claims title to the Office of the Chief Justice. Instead, it is the government itself which commenced the present petition for quo warranto and puts in issue the qualification of the person holding the highest position in the Judiciary.

Section 2 of Rule 66 provides that “the Solicitor General or a public prosecutor, when directed by the President of the Philippines, or when upon complaint or otherwise he has good reason to believe that any case specified in the preceding section can be established by proof must commence such action.” It may be stated that ordinary statutes of limitation, civil or penal, have no application to quo warranto proceeding brought to enforce a public right. There is no limitation or prescription of action in an action for quo warranto, neither could there be, for the reason that it was an action by the Government and prescription could not be plead as a defense to an action by the Government.

That prescription does not lie in this case can also be deduced from the very purpose of an action for quo warranto. Because quo warranto serves to end a continuous usurpation, no statute of limitations applies to the action. Needless to say, no prudent and just court would allow an unqualified person to hold public office, much more the highest position in the Judiciary. Moreover, the Republic cannot be faulted for questioning Sereno’s qualification· for office only upon discovery of the cause of ouster because even up to the present, Sereno has not been candid on whether she filed the required SALNs or not. The defect on Sereno’s appointment was therefore not discernible, but was, on the contrary, deliberately rendered obscure.

Anent the eighth issue: The Court has supervisory authority over the JBC includes ensuring that the JBC complies with its own rules.

Section 8(1), Article VIII of the Constitution provides that “A Judicial and Bar Council is hereby created under the supervision of the Supreme Court.” The power of supervision means “overseeing or the authority of an officer to see to it that the subordinate officers perform their duties.” JBC’s absolute autonomy from the Court as to place its non-action or improper· actions beyond the latter’s reach is therefore not what the Constitution contemplates. What is more, the JBC’s duty to recommend or nominate, although calling for the exercise of discretion, is neither absolute nor unlimited, and is not automatically equivalent to an exercise of policy decision as to place, in wholesale, the JBC process beyond the scope of the Court’s supervisory and corrective powers. While a certain leeway must be given to the JBC in screening aspiring magistrates, the same does not give it an unbridled discretion to ignore Constitutional and legal requirements. Thus, the nomination by the JBC is not accurately an exercise of policy or wisdom as to place the JBC’s actions in the same category as political questions that the Court is barred from resolving. [yourlawyersays]

[READ: Justice Leonen’s dissenting opinion: Q&A Format]

With this, it must be emphasized that qualifications under the Constitution cannot be waived or bargained by the JBC, and one of which is that “a Member of the Judiciary must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence. “Integrity” is closely related to, or if not, approximately equated to an applicant’s good reputation for honesty, incorruptibility, irreproachable conduct, and fidelity to sound moral and ethical standards.” Integrity is likewise imposed by the New Code of Judicial Conduct and the Code of Professional Responsibility. The Court has always viewed integrity with a goal of preserving the confidence of the litigants in the Judiciary. Hence, the JBC was created in order to ensure that a member of the Supreme Court must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence.

Anent the ninth issue: The filing of SALN is a constitutional and statutory requirement.

Section 17, Article XI of the Constitution states that “A public officer or employee shall, upon assumption of office and as often thereafter as may be required by law, submit a declaration under oath of his assets, liabilities, and net worth.” This has likewise been required by RA 3019 and RA 6713. “Failure to comply” with the law is a violation of law, a “prima facie evidence of unexplained wealth, which may result in the dismissal from service of the public officer.” It is a clear breach of the ethical standards set for public officials and employees. The filing of the SALN is so important for purposes of transparency and accountability that failure to comply with such requirement may result not only in dismissal from the public service but also in criminal liability. Section 11 of R.A. No. 6713 even provides that  non-compliance with this requirement is not only punishable by imprisonment and/or a fine, it may also result in disqualification to hold public office.

Because the Chief Justice is a public officer, she is constitutionally and statutorily mandated to perform a positive duty to disclose all of his assets and liabilities. According to Sereno herself in her dissenting opinion in one case, those who accept a public office do so cum onere, or with a burden, and are considered as accepting its burdens and obligations, together with its benefits. They thereby subject themselves to all constitutional and legislative provisions relating thereto, and undertake to perform all the duties of their office. The public has the right to demand the performance of those duties. More importantly, while every office in the government service is a public trust, no position exacts a greater demand on moral righteousness and uprightness of an individual than a seat in the Judiciary.

Noncompliance with the SALN requirement indubitably·reflects on a person’s integrity. It is not merely a trivial or a formal requirement. The contention that the mere non-filing does not affect Sereno’s integrity does not persuade considering that RA 6713 and RA 3019 are malum prohibitum and not malum in se. Thus, it is the omission or commission of that act as defined by the law, and not the character or effect thereof, that determines whether or not the provision has been violated. Malice or criminal intent is completely immaterial.

Anent the tenth issue: Sereno chronically failed to file her SALNs and thus violated the Constitution, the law, and the Code of Judicial Conduct.

In Sereno’s 20 years of government service in UP Law, only 11 SALNs have been filed. Sereno could have easily dispelled doubts as to the filing or nonfiling of the unaccounted SALNs by presenting them before the Court. Yet, Sereno opted to withhold such information or such evidence, if at all, for no clear reason. The Doblada case, invoked by Sereno, cannot be applied, because in the Doblada case, there was a letter of the head of the personnel of the branch of the court that the missing SALN exists and was duly transmitted and received by the OCA as the repository agency. In Sereno’s case, the missing SALNs are neither proven to be in the records of nor was proven to have been sent to and duly received by the Ombudsman as the repository agency. The existence of these SALNs and the fact of filing thereof were neither established by direct proof constituting substantial evidence nor by mere inference. Moreover, the statement of the Ombudsman is categorical: “based on records on file, there is no SALN filed by [Sereno] for calendar years 1999 to 2009 except SALN ending December 1998.” This leads the Court to conclude that Sereno did not indeed file her SALN.

For this reason, the Republic was able to discharge its burden of proof with the certification from UP HRDO and Ombudsman, and thus it becomes incumbent upon Sereno to discharge her burden of evidence. Further, the burden of proof in a quo warranto proceeding is different when it is filed by the State in that the burden rests upon the respondent.

In addition, contrary to what Sereno contends, being on leave does not exempt her from filing her SALN because it is not tantamount to separation from government service. The fact that Sereno did not receive any pay for the periods she was on leave does not make her a government worker “serving in an honorary capacity” to be exempted from the SALN laws on RA 6713. [yourlawyersays]

Neither can the clearance and certification of UP HRDO be taken in favor of Sereno. During the period when Sereno was a professor in UP, concerned authorized official/s of the Office of the President or the Ombudsman had not yet established compliance procedures for the review of SALNs filed by officials and employees of State Colleges and Universities, like U.P. The ministerial duty of the head of office to issue compliance order came about only on 2006 from the CSC. As such, the U.P. HRDO could not have been expected to perform its ministerial duty of issuing compliance orders to Sereno when such rule was not yet in existence at that time. Moreover, the clearance are not substitutes for SALNs. The import of said clearance is limited only to clearing Sereno of her academic and administrative responsibilities, money and property accountabilities and from administrative charges as of the date of her resignation.

Neither can Sereno’s inclusion in the matrix of candidates with complete requirements and in the shortlist nominated by the JBC confirm or ratify her compliance with the SALN requirement. Her inclusion in the shortlist of candidates for the position of Chief Justice does not negate, nor supply her with the requisite proof of integrity. She should have been disqualified at the outset. Moreover, the JBC En Banc cannot be deemed to have considered Sereno eligible because it does not appear that Sereno’s failure to submit her SALNs was squarely addressed by the body. Her inclusion in the shortlist of nominees and subsequent appointment to the position do not estop the Republic or this Court from looking into her qualifications. Verily, no estoppel arises where the representation or conduct of the party sought to be estopped is due to ignorance founded upon an innocent mistake

Anent the eleventh issue: Sereno failed to properly and promptly file her SALNs, again in violation of the Constitutional and statutory requirements    .

Failure to file a truthful, complete and accurate SALN would likewise amount to dishonesty if the same is attended by malicious intent to conceal the truth or to make false statements. The suspicious circumstances include: 1996 SALN being accomplished only in 1998; 1998 SALN only filed in 2003; 1997 SALN only notarized in 1993; 2004-2006 SALNs were not filed which were the years when she received the bulk of her fees from PIATCO cases, 2006 SALN was later on intended to be for 2010, gross amount from PIATCO cases were not reflected, suspicious increase of P2,700,000 in personal properties were seen in her first five months as Associate Justice. It is therefore clear as day that Sereno failed not only in complying with the physical act of filing, but also committed dishonesty betraying her lack of integrity, honesty and probity. The Court does not hesitate to impose the supreme penalty of dismissal against public officials whose SALNs were found to have contained discrepancies, inconsistencies and non-disclosures.

Anent the twelfth issue: Sereno failed to submit the required SALNs as to qualify for nomination pursuant to the JBC rules.

The JBC required the submission of at least ten SALNs from those applicants who are incumbent Associate Justices, absent which, the applicant ought not to have been interviewed, much less been considered for nomination. From the minutes of the meeting of the JBC, it appeared that Sereno was singled out from the rest of the applicants for having failed to submit a single piece of SALN for her years of service in UP Law. It is clear that JBC did not do away with the SALN requirement, but still required substantial compliance. Subsequently, it appeared that it was only Sereno who was not able to substantially comply with the SALN requirement, and instead of complying, Sereno wrote a letter containing justifications why she should no longer be required to file the SALNs: that she resigned from U.P. in 2006 and then resumed government service only in 2009, thus her government service is not continuous; that her government records are more than 15 years old and thus infeasible to retrieve; and that U.P. cleared her of all academic and administrative responsibilities and charges.

These justifications, however, did not obliterate the simple fact that Sereno submitted only 3 SALNs to the JBC in her 20-year service in U.P., and that there was nary an attempt on Sereno’s part to comply. Moreover, Sereno curiously failed to mention that she did not file several SALNs during the course of her employment in U.P. Such failure to disclose a material fact and the concealment thereof from the JBC betrays any claim of integrity especially from a Member of the Supreme Court. [yourlawyersays]

Indubitably, Sereno not only failed to substantially comply with the submission of the SALNs but there was no compliance at all. Dishonesty is classified as a grave offense the penalty of which is dismissal from the service at the first infraction. A person aspiring to public office must observe honesty, candor and faithful compliance with the law. Nothing less is expected. Dishonesty is a malevolent act that puts serious doubt upon one’s ability to perform his duties with the integrity and uprightness demanded of a public officer or employee. For these reasons, the JBC should no longer have considered Sereno for interview.

Moreover, the fact that Sereno had no permit to engage in private practice while in UP, her false representations that she was in private practice after resigning from UP when in fact she was counsel for the government, her false claims that the clearance from UP HRDO is proof of her compliance with SALNs requirement, her commission of tax fraud for failure to truthfully declare her income in her ITRs for the years 2007-2009, procured a brand new Toyota Land Cruiser worth at least P5,000,000, caused the hiring of Ms. Macasaet without requisite public bidding, misused P3,000,000 of government funds for hotel accommodation at Shangri-La Boracay as the venue of the 3rd ASEAN Chief Justices meeting, issued a TRO in Coalition of Associations of Senior Citizens in the Philippines v. COMELEC contrary to the Supreme Court’s internal rules, manipulated the disposition of the DOJ request to transfer the venue of the Maute cases outside of Mindanao, ignored rulings of the Supreme Court with respect to the grant of survivorship benefits which caused undue delay to the release of survivorship benefits to spouses of deceased judges and Justices, manipulated the processes of the JBC to exclude then SolGen, now AJ Francis Jardeleza, by using highly confidential document involving national security against the latter among others, all belie the fact that Sereno has integrity.

Anent the thirteenth issue: Sereno’s failure to submit to the JBC her SALNs for several years means that her integrity was not established at the time of her application

The requirement to submit SALNs is made more emphatic when the applicant is eyeing the position of Chief Justice. On the June 4, 2012, JBC En Banc meeting, Senator Escudero proposed the addition of the requirement of SALN in order for the next Chief Justice to avoid what CJ Corona had gone through. Further, the failure to submit the required SALNs means that the JBC and the public are divested of the opportunity to consider the applicant’s fitness or propensity to commit corruption or dishonesty. In Sereno’s case, for example, the waiver of the confidentiality of bank deposits would be practically useless for the years that she failed to submit her SALN since the JBC cannot verify whether the same matches the entries indicated in the SALN.

Anent the fourteenth issue: Sereno’s ineligibility for lack of proven integrity cannot be cured by her nomination and subsequent appointment as Chief Justice.

Well-settled is the rule that qualifications for public office must be possessed at the time of appointment and assumption of office and also during the officer’s entire tenure as a continuing requirement. The voidance of the JBC nomination as a necessary consequence of the Court’s finding that Sereno is ineligible, in the first place, to be a candidate for the position of Chief Justice and to be nominated for said position follows as a matter of course. The Court has ample jurisdiction to do so without the necessity of impleading the JBC as the Court can take judicial notice of the explanations from the JBC members and the OEO. he Court, in a quo warranto proceeding, maintains the power to issue such further judgment determining the respective rights in and to the public office, position or franchise of all the parties to the action as justice requires.

Neither will the President’s act of appointment cause to qualify Sereno. Although the JBC is an office constitutionally created, the participation of the President in the selection and nomination process is evident from the composition of the JBC itself.

An appointment is essentially within the discretionary power of whomsoever it is vested, subject to the only condition that the appointee should possess the qualifications required by law. While the Court surrenders discretionary appointing power to the President, the exercise of such discretion is subject to the non-negotiable requirements that the appointee is qualified and all other legal requirements are satisfied, in the absence of which, the appointment is susceptible to attack.

Anent the fifteenth issue: Sereno is a de facto officer removable through quo warranto

The effect of a finding that a person appointed to an office is ineligible therefor is that his presumably valid appointment will give him color of title that confers on him the status of a de facto officer. For lack of a Constitutional qualification, Sereno is ineligible to hold the position of Chief Justice and is merely holding a colorable right or title thereto. As such, Sereno has never attained the status of an impeachable official and her removal from the office, other than by impeachment, is justified. The remedy, therefore, of a quo warranto at the instance of the State is proper to oust Sereno from the appointive position of Chief Justice. [yourlawyersays]

DISPOSITIVE PORTION:

 

WHEREFORE, the Petition for Quo Warranto is GRANTED.

Sereno is found DISQUALIFIED from and is hereby adjudged GUILTY of UNLAWFULLY HOLDING and EXERCISING the OFFICE OF THE CHIEF JUSTICE. Accordingly, Sereno is OUSTED and EXCLUDED therefrom.

The position of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is declared vacant and the Judicial and Bar Council is directed to commence the application and nomination process.

This Decision is immediately executory without need of further action from the Court.

Sereno is ordered to SHOW CAUSE within ten (10) days from receipt hereof why she should not be sanctioned for violating the Code of Professional Responsibility and the Code of Judicial Conduct for transgressing the sub judice rule and for casting aspersions and ill motives to the Members of the Supreme Court.

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