Fariñas on Sereno cases: SC decision first before House vote

MANILA, Philippines – House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said on Tuesday, March 6, that he would prefer to wait for the Supreme Court (SC)’s action on a petition that seeks to declare Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s appointment void.

Sereno is the subject of an impeachment complaint being tackled by the House justice committee. They are set to vote on whether there is probable cause to pursue the impeachment case on Thursday, March 8.

If the committee votes in favor of declaring the complaint having probable cause, that means the committee is endorsing Sereno’s impeachment before the House plenary.

"We have to look at [the quo warranto petition], on how it progresses on the quo warranto...because if the Supreme Court takes due course [in terms of deciding on the petition]...The position of the Supreme Court is first, to comment on it or whatever," said Fariñas in a chance interview with reporters.

A quo warranto petition is a legal remedy to declare an appointment invalid.

Fariñas added: “This is my view as the chairman of the Committee on Rules. If I see that there's a serious challenge on the legitimacy of the office in question [chief justice], I would rather wait [for the Supreme Court to make a decision] because it's not like [they will sit on it]. This will be of utmost importance to the Supreme Court that will be resolved in a month's time." 

True enough, the Supreme Court en banc – sans Sereno – discussed the quo warranto petitions on March 6. Without passing judgment on the petition itself, it ordered Sereno to comment within 10 days on the petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida. The High Court also junked another complaint filed by Marcos loyalist Oliver Lozano for lacking in substance.

The lone dissenter in the Court's decision, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, said that in his opinion, the petition should be dismissed outright.

Why this matters: Committee chairman Reynaldo Umali earlier said the committee would push through with its proceedings even as the High Court deliberates on the petition filed by Calida.

He also estimated that the eventual committee report – on whether or not to impeach Sereno – would be discussed in plenary by the week of March 21, or when the House is set to take a months-long break.

Fariñas, as majority leader, heads the House committee on rules, meaning, “all matters relevant to the Rules of the House, specifically the calendar of bills, preparation of Order of Business, and Calendar of Business are within his responsibilities.”

The Ilocano legislator explained the rules committee has 10 session days to include it in the House’s calendar of business. The House typically holds session thrice a week.

Fariñas told reports that the impeachment committee’s report will likely be included in the order of business when Congress resumes session on May 14.

“The power to impeach, part of that is when to impeach, right?” added Fariñas, who noted that under the rules, the House has until October 21 to finally vote on the committee report.

Two ways to remove Sereno? To summarize, Sereno faces two challenges that could lead to her ouster from office.

One route is via the impeachment case and eventual trial before the Senate, and the other is through the quo warranto petition, which the Supreme Court may also choose to immediately junk.

Fariñas, a veteral lawyer, said the House, however, cannot be compelled to stop the impeachment process on account of the quo warranto petition.

Fariñas is no stranger to impeachment proceedings. He was among the prosecutors the last time the House impeached then chief justice Renato Corona – even if he sheepishly admitted back then that he found the complaint poorly-crafted.

“When it comes to me, I will review it [to determine] if it’s ripe to be brought to plenary. If there’s something missing, I’ll tell the justice committee to fix it. I have 10 days.” – Rappler.com