What is a Quo Warranto? The People Want to Know
AS THOUGH the threat of impeachment were not enough, Chief Justice (CJ) Maria Lourdes Sereno now faces another challenge, her removal from office by quo warranto. What is it and what does it mean?
On March 5, Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a 34-page quo warranto petition seeking to nullify her appointment as chief justice of the Supreme Court. Calida cited Sereno’s supposed failure to provide adequate statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) – a point that was repeatedly cited by proponents during the impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives.
While Calida’s action was picked up by the media, reports were limited to the action taken, the filing of the petition, lacking the necessary details that would explain the nature of a quo warranto petition and what it means.
CMFR monitored reports from the three top broadsheets (Manila Bulletin, Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star), primetime newscasts (ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol, CNN Philippines’ News Night, GMA-7’s 24 Oras and TV5’s Aksyon), as well as select online news sites from March 5 to 7, 2018.
Tracking the issue
The quo warranto petition was an idea proposed as early as February 21 by suspended lawyer Eligio Mallari, who asked Solicitor General Calida in a two-page letter to initiate such proceeding — a development that was not given prominence in media reports then. Mallari was suspended for two years by the SC in February for resorting to “dilatory tactics” to delay the Government Service and Insurance System (GSIS) from forfeiting his two land properties in Pampanga when he failed to meet his obligations after obtaining two loans from the agency. The suspended lawyer is also the president of the group Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution Inc., which filed a failed impeachment complaint against Sereno in 2017.
On February 24, a report by the Star citing anonymous sources said the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) “is set to seek the ouster” of CJ Sereno through a petition that would question her appointment in 2012. This was followed by a proposal by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez during a February 28 press briefing that the OSG should look into the legality of Sereno’s appointment. A report on March 5 of the Star quoted Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II as saying that the Supreme Court (SC) can oust Sereno by nullifying her appointment via a quo warranto case (“SC can oust Sereno quo warranto – DOJ”). In the afternoon of the same day, Calida officially announced the quo warranto petition against Sereno.
Calida’s move to question Sereno’s appointment appeared in primetime newscasts on March 5, showing short video clips of the announcement, but these initial reports did not explain what a quo warranto petition is. As expected, reports carried the response of the Sereno camp which dismissed the petition as having no basis, reiterating the point that the Chief Justice can only be removed from office by impeachment as provided by the 1987 Constitution.
The evening TV reports carried views of some congressmen and senators who questioned its application in Sereno’s case. Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman pointed out a one-year prescriptive period for filing a quo warranto, citing Rule 66, Section 11 of the Rules of Court.
Unfortunately, reports in print on March 6 were no different in the approach taken by television news as the broadsheets recounted the views of the issue’s talking heads.
Only the Inquirer (“IN THE KNOW: What’s a quo warranto petition?”) came up with a report that directly explained what quo warranto petition is, describing the procedure as a legal procedure “used to challenge an individual’s right to or authority over the position he or she holds.” Citing Rule 66 of the Rules of Court, such petition may be filed by an individual or the government against “a person who usurps, intrudes into, or unlawfully holds or exercises a public office position or franchise.”
CNN Philippines’ Newsroom on the same day also aired a similar explainer (“What is a Quo Warranto petition?”). In addition, the report featured the views of Atty. Tranquil Salvador, a procedural law expert. Salvador said Rule 66 Section 1b of the Rules of Court can apply to Sereno since Calida’s petition is anchored on the accusation that the Chief Justice failed to file all the required SALNs when she applied for her post in 2012. The provision states that a quo warranto petition may be filed against a public officer “who does or suffers an act which, by the provision of the law, constitutes a ground for the forfeiture of his office.”
Context from a Constitutional Law Expert
Hilbay, who also teaches Constitutional Law at the UP College of Law, talked about the constitutional aspect of the issue, such as the qualifications for members of the Supreme Court, and procedures for removal from office (“’You can question anybody’: Ex-SolGen warns vsSereno ouster via quo warranto”).
Hilbay described a quo warranto petition as a procedure by which the Solicitor General “questions the legality of the holding of the office of a particular public officer.” The petition for a quo warranto “cannot be done,” arguing that members of the SC acquire their position by fulfilling the constitutional requirements in applying for the post – that the applicant must be a natural-born citizen of the Philippines; at least forty years of age; and must have at least fifteen years of practice of law in the country (1987 Constitution, Article VIII, Section 7).
Hilbay emphasized that a Chief Justice can only be removed from office through impeachment and commented that a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the quo warranto petition against Sereno is “incompatible with the Constitution.” Such ruling would open “a lot of potential can of worms” and expose everybody’s appointment to such scrutiny, he said.