Lawyers counting on 'swing votes' to reverse Sereno ouster

MANILA, Philipines – Prominent Philippine lawyers have appealed to Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justices Andres Reyes Jr and Alexander Gesmundo to “internalize and change their mind” and reverse the quo warranto ouster of former chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

“We have not lost hope. We are still counting on two of the 8, kasi 6 lang 'yung dapat na disqualify diyan eh (only 6 were supposed to vote for disqualification), and I doubt that the 6 will change their minds, but we still hope that the two will cross over,” Edre Olalia of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said on Tuesday, May 15, as a group of lawyers held a protest in front of the SC.

Reyes and Gesmundo are among the 8 justices who voted to oust Sereno in an unprecedented quo warranto route.

Sereno earlier sought the inhibition from the case of the 6 justices for alleged bias – Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza, Noel Tijam, and Samuel Martires. (READ: De Castro says Sereno ousted over tendency to 'lie, mislead')

All of President Rodrigo Duterte’s appointees – Tijam, Martires, Reyes, and Gesmundo – voted to oust Sereno. Tijam and Martires will retire in January 2019.

Reyes will retire in May 2019, but Gesmundo will serve up to 2026, long after Duterte’s term ends.

“We are appealing, more than protesting, to internalize and think about the repercussions because they’re going to be there even after President Duterte is out of power. They have to remember that, they will have to answer to the people,” Olalia said.

Under the rules, Sereno can file a motion for reconsideration (MR) after which the SC will decide on it with finality. The Sereno camp has not replied definitively to questions about their filing an MR.


Interesting to note in this internal dynamics is that all of former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III’s appointees voted to dismiss the petition, except for one: Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza.

Jardeleza and Sereno tend to share the same constitutionalist principles when voting, with the biggest exception of the latter’s ouster.

On Facebook, Aquino’s former spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said he was “saddened” by Jardeleza’s vote.

“I am saddened by Justice Francis Jardeleza’s (a man I admire) decision to oust Chief Justice Sereno. It may well have been his reaction to the personal attacks by Sereno against him during the JBC hearings,” Lacierda said.

Jardeleza’s nomination to the SC was blocked by Sereno in 2015 on questions of integrity related to the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) arbitration case. In the end, his name was stricken off the short list of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC). 

He sued the JBC and Sereno and won, after which he was appointed to the SC. (READ: The Supreme Court post-Sereno: Better off or not?)

Being a constitutionalist, many anticipated how Jardeleza would justify his vote in his separate opinion. But his opinion contained nothing about quo warranto; only a recollection of his bitter episode with Sereno and why it was right for him not to inhibit.

“I tell you these stories because I want to share with you, from real life experience, how we can deal with opportunities and challenges and act in ways to ensure a legal system based on the Rule of Law. I realize that this might not be the case for everyone. I hope though that by sharing with you my story you would be encouraged to continue keeping your faith in the Rule of Law,” Jardeleza said in his very emotional 43-page opinion.

Lacierda said: “I do not blame him entirely but hard as it may be, the nobler man would have preferred the rule of law over a pound of flesh. And that may have, could have spelled all the difference in this case.”

On Twitter, Jardeleza’s second man and successor at the Office of the Solicitor General, former solicitor general Florin Hilbay had a cryptic post: “I strongly suggest against demonizing any of the justices who voted to grant the Quo Warranto. There is still an MR that can be filed and while the situation seems hopeless, we cannot fully reject the possibility of reversal. 8-6 is very a close vote. We need just 1 vote to win.”

It is unclear if Hilbay – who openly opposes the quo warranto ouster – has been talking to his former boss when he said: “Let's convince the Justices of the SC that they have the power to fix it; that it's more about preserving the Constitution and their legacy than anything else. That's how we're gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love."

Woke up to a world w a broken Constitution. Let's convince the Justices of the SC that they have the power to fix it; that it's more about preserving the Consti & their legacy than anything else. "That's how we're gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love." — florin hilbay (@fthilbay) May 12, 2018

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.