MANILA, Philippines – Opposition members in the House of Representatives said on Monday, March 5, the Duterte administration was being "desperate" after Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a petition, seeking to invalidate the appointment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
What's going on? Calida filed a petition for quo warranto before the Supreme Court (SC) on Monday, even as the House committee on justice is set to vote this week on an impeachment complaint against Sereno. It is widely believed the lower chamber will impeach Sereno, with no less than Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez saying there is enough probable cause to do so, based on the 17 hearings conducted by the committee.
Members of the opposition blocs said the Duterte administration is seeking quo warranto as an option because they don't have the numbers in the Senate, where the Chief Justice will be tried and, if there are enough votes, removed from office.
What the opposition lawmakers are saying: There are at least two opposition blocs in the House: the leftist Makabayan bloc and the "Magnificent 7," which is composed of Liberal Party (LP) members and allied groups.
"This recent move by the Duterte administration and its allies in filing a quo warranto case against Chief Justice Sereno exposes their lack of belief that their impeachment case against the latter could withstand Senate trial. As shown by the marathon committee proceedings, the various allegations thrown by Gadon and the witnesses he presented lack sufficient basis to impeach her."
– Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate
"Duterte and his cohorts are drawing all their cards to ensure monopoly of political power. It is evident that by filing a quo warranto petition, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) has proven itself to be another instrument and enabler of Duterte's rising dictatorship."
– Kabataan Representative Sarah Elago
"This latest move is meant to exert increased pressure on the judiciary to make it pliant to Duterte's dictatorial dream, and to fan the conflict within the high court."
– Gabriela Women's Party Representatives Emmi de Jesus and Arlene Brosas
"Even without consummating [Charter Change], this administration is hell-bent on rewriting the Constitution by trying to remove the fiercely independent Chief Justice through unconstitutional means. Despite the multiple attacks on the CJ's person, its kangaroo court in the committee on justice has not built up a credible case of impeachable offenses committed by CJ Sereno."
– Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat
"The quo warranto petition gives the subject 7 justices the opportunity to pursue their scheme in removing the chief magistrate without waiting for the constitutional process of a Senate impeachment trial. The quo warranto petition inveigles the Supreme Court to violate the Constitution by usurping the power of the House of Representatives to impeach the Chief Justice and the jurisdiction of the Senate to try and judge her."
– Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman, who also wants the 7 SC justices who "attempted to oust" Sereno to inhibit from Calida's petition
What happens next? The SC will need to decide if it will act on Calida's petition.
At the House, the committee is set to vote on Thursday, March 8, on whether there is probable cause to pursue the impeachment complaint against Sereno. A week after that, the House plenary will vote on the committee report.
If one-third of the plenary accepts a report recommending Sereno's impeachment, she will be deemed impeached. That would make her the second official impeached by the 17th Congress.