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What next?

by Jullie Y. Daza

Yes, the public has been polarized by the ouster of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno. Polarized into three factions: those who know the law, those who are blissfully unaware of its complexities, and those who think they know the law.

Obviously, the blissfully unaware belong to the silent majority. For now, they – we – can only sympathize with ex-CJ Sereno’s fall from grace, so soon after Wanda Teo’s abrupt end as secretary of tourism. Former senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who presided over the impeachment trial of CJ Renato Corona, fears another painful consequence of Ms. Sereno’s removal from the Supreme Court: Would she be made to refund the government in the form of her salaries as chief justice going back to 2012? Remember, the basis of her ouster, based on the quo warranto petition, is her lack of qualification: If she was not fit to hold office, why should she be paid for her services?

For those of us who out-and-out are ignorant of the law and its twists and turns, whereases and wherefores, one thing is clear and easy to understand, that Ms. Sereno will get her sweet revenge when she produces proof that her tormentors in the Court did not file their statements of assets and liabilities – a threat she aired quite eloquently in the weeks leading up to the quo warranto decision that found her guilty of withholding “such information or evidence, if at all for no clear reason” except that “she had no records of the same” (from the decision penned by Associate Justice Noel Tijam). She could then make her own prophecy come true, that a barrage of quo warranto cases will henceforth tie up the judiciary in a tangle of back-and-forths, by questioning any Duterte appointee’s qualifications and demanding proof of their SALN.

Whatever happens, the Judicial and Bar Council will soon have to submit to President Duterte its list of nominees for the position of chief justice. (This is the same JBC, though with different personalities now exercising its powers, that allowed Atty. Ma. Lourdes Sereno to take her oath as CJ without providing copies of her SALN.) While that list is supposed to guide the Chief Executive, said Mr. Ponce Enrile during a session of Club 365 in Makati last Saturday, “the President can appoint anyone he chooses, even someone outside the law profession, yes, even a nonlawyer.” For emphasis, he said “can,” not “may.”

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