Quo Warranto – REPUBLIC of the PHILIPPINES, represented by SOLICITOR GENERAL JOSE C. CALIDA, Petitioner, – versus – MARIA LOURDES P.A. SERENO, Respondent.

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EN BANC
G.R. No. 237428
May 11, 2018

REPUBLIC of the PHILIPPINES, represented by SOLICITOR GENERAL JOSE C. CALIDA, Petitioner, – versus – MARIA LOURDES P.A. SERENO, Respondent.

TIJAM, J.:

DECISION

“Whoever walks in integrity and with moral character walks securely, but he who takes a crooked way will be discovered and punished.” -The Holy Bible, Proverbs 10:9 (AMP)

Integrity has, at all times, been stressed to be one of the required qualifications of a judge. It is not a new concept in the vocation of administering and dispensing justice. In the early l 600’s, Francis Bacon, a philosopher, statesman, and jurist, in his “Essay L VI: Of Judicature” said – “‘[a]bove all things, integrity is the Judge’s portion and proper virtue.”

Neither is integrity a complex concept necessitating esoteric philosophical disquisitions to be understood. Simply, it is a qualification of being honest, truthful, and having steadfast adherence to moral and ethical principles. 1

Integrity connotes being consistent – doing the right thing in accordance with the law and ethical standards everytime. Hence, every judicial officer in any society is required to comply, not only with the laws and legislations, but with codes and canons of conduct and ethical standards as well, without derogation. As Thomas Jefferson remarked, “it is of great importance to set a resolution, never not to be shaken, never to tell an untruth. There is no vice so mean, so pitiful, so contemptible and he who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual, he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world’s believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart and in time depraves all its good dispositions.” Mental dishonesty and moral mischief breed all that integrity is not.

In our jurisdiction, one cannot be qualified to be a member of the Judiciary, lacking such mandatory requirement of “proven integrity”.

Inevitably, an appointee to the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court must be the exemplar of honesty, probity and integrity. The purpose of this requirement is self-evident as the Chief Justice heads the Judiciary and adjudicates cases as a member of the Court that “has the last word on what the law is.”2 Together with other Justices, the Chief Justice also disciplines members of the Bar for misconduct. The significance of probity and integrity as a requirement for appointment to the Judiciary is underscored by the fact that such qualifications are not explicitly required of the President, the Vice-President or the Members of Congress under the Constitution. The Constitution, thus, demands in no uncertain terms that the Chief Justice be the embodiment of moral and ethical principles. He or she must be of unquestionable character, possessed of moral authority to demand obedience to the law and to impose a rule of conduct. Indeed, one who exacts compliance with the law and ethical standards should be their foremost adherent.

No one is above the law and the Constitution, not even a Chief Justice who took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution and obey the laws of the land. The Court in Francisco, Jr. v. The House of Representatives,3 says

[1] <http://www.dictionary.com/browse/integrity> (visited on March 19, 2018);
<https://www.thefreedictionary.com/integrity> (visited on March 19, 2018).
[2] Conde v. Intermediate Appellate Court, 228 Phil. 145, 151 ( 1986).
[3] 460 Phil. 830 (2003).

it tritely – “the Chief Justice is not above the law and neither is any other member of this Court.”4 All public officers whether in the Executive, Legislative or Judicial departments are bound to follow the law. If a public officer violates the law, he or she shall suffer punishment, sanctions and adverse consequences. The obligatory force of the law is necessary because once we allow exceptions, concessions, waiver, suspension or nonapplication to those who do not want to follow the law, nobody else will obey the law.

In this unprecedented case for quo warranto against the incumbent Chief Justice, the Republic entreats this Court to declare Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno (respondent) ineligible to hold the highest post in the Judiciary for failing to. regularly disclose her assets, liabilities and net worth as a member of the career service prior to her appointment as an Associate Justice, and later as Chief Justice, of the Supreme Court, in violation of the Constitution, the Anti-Graft Law, and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees. The Republic accordingly seeks the nullification of respondent’s appointment, asserting that her failure to file the required disclosures and her failure to submit the same to the Judicial and Bar Council show that she is not possessed of “proven integrity” demanded of every aspirant to the Judiciary.

The Case

Invoking the Court’s original jurisdiction under Section 5(1 ), Article VIII of the Constitution in relation to the special civil action under Rule 66 of the Rules of Court, the Republic of the Philippines (Republic), through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) filed the present Petition5 for the issuance of the extraordinary writ of quo warranto to declare as void respondent’s appointment as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and to oust and altogether exclude respondent therefrom.

The Antecedents

From November 1986 to June 1, 2006, or spanning a period of 20 years, respondent served as a member of the faculty of the University of the Philippines-College of Law (U.P. or U.P. College of Law), initially as a temporary faculty member (from November 1986 to December 31, 1991) and thereafter, as a permanent faculty member until her resignation therefrom on June 1, 2006.6 As a regular faculty member, respondent was paid by the month by U.P. 7

[4] Id. at 943.
[5] Rollo, pp. 3-44.
[6] Id. at 172.
[7] TSN, Oral Arguments on April 10, 2018.

Based on the records of the U.P. Human Resources Development Office (U.P. HRD0),8 respondent was on official leave from the U.P. College of Law for the following periods:

— – ‘ – — —
June 1, 2000 – May 31, 2001
June 1, 2001 – May 31, 2002
November 1, 2003 – May 31, 2004
June 1, 2004 – October 31, 2004
+—–
November 1, 2004 – February 10, 2005
February 11, 2005 – October 31, 2005
November 15, 2005 – May 31, 2006
—-

While being employed at the U.P. College of Law, or from October 2003 to 2006, respondent was concurrently employed as legal counsel of the Republic in two international arbitrations: (a) PIATCO v. Republic of the Philippines and MIAA; and (b) Fraport AG Frankfurt Airport Services Worldwide v. Republic of the Philippines (PIATCO cases).9

The Personal Data Sheet (PDS) accomplished under oath by respondent further details, among others, the following engagements/services rendered by her for various government agencies: 10

Position From To No. of Department/

Years Agency
Nature of work Supervisor
Legal Counsel 1994 2008 14 yrs. Various agencies of Legal — various Executive
government — Office international trade Secretaries
of the President, and investment Alberto
Office of the Solicitor law in WTO Romulo,
General, Manila (Geneva), ICSID Eduardo Ermita
International Airport (Washington, and Leandro
Authority, Department DC). ICC-ICA Mendoza, Chief
of Agriculture, (Singapore, Paris) Presidential
Department of Trade and in bilateral Legal Counsel
and Industry, WTO- dispute resolution Avelino Cruz
AFTA Commission, mechanisms and Merceditas
Philippine Coconut Gutierrez;
Authority · Solicitor
Generals
Alfredo
Benipayo,
Antonio
Nachura and
Agnes
Devanadera,
MIAA General
Manager
Alfonso Cusi,
L Sen. Edgardo , _____ _,___ _j_____l_____ — ——————–~——— —–~——

[8] Annex “D” of the Petition.
[9] Id. at 173.
[10] Id. at 850-851.

Angara, Sec.
Salvador
Escudero,
Undersecretary
Thomas Aquino,
Amb. Lilia
Bautista
Deputy Commission on Legal and Acting
Commissioner Human Rights (UP Administrative Chairman&
Diliman, Comm.
Commonwealth Ave., Abelardo
QC, TEL:928-7098) Aportadera
(TEL: 687-
7571)

Incidentally, the U.P. HRDO certified that there was no record on respondent’s 201 file of any permission to engage in limited practice of profession. 11 Her engagement as legal counsel for the Republic continued until 2009. 12

Despite having been employed at the U.P. College of Law from November 1986 to June 1, 2006, the record of the U.P. HRDO only contains the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) for 1985, 13 1990,14 1991,15 1993,16 1994,17 1995,18 1996,19 1997,20 and 2002,21 filed by respondent. On the other hand, the records of the Central Records Division of the Office of the Ombudsman yields that there is no SALN filed by respondent for calendar years 1999 to 2009 except for the SALN ending December 1998 which was subscribed only in August 2003 and transmitted by the U.P. HRDO to the Ombudsman only on December 16, 2003.22

Belatedly, in respondent’s Ad Cautelam Manifestation/Submission, she attached a copy of her SALN for 198923 which she supposedly sourced from the “filing cabinets”24 or “drawers of U.P.”25 Similarly, despite having been employed as legal counsel of various government agencies from 2003 to 2009, there is likewise no showing that she filed her SALNs for these years, except for the SALN ending December 31, 2009 which was unsubscribed and filed before the Office of the Clerk of Court only on June 22, 2012.

[11] Id. at 65.
[12] Id. at 173.
[13] Id. at 597-597 A.
[14] Id. at 598-598A.
[15] Id. at 599-599A.
[16] Id. at 600-600A.
[17] Id. at 601-601A.
[18] Id. at 602-602A.
[19] Id. at 603-603A.
[20] Id. at 604-604A.
[21] Id. at 54-55.
[22] Id. at 60-62.
[23] ld. at 1727-1728.
[24] TSN, Oral Arguments on April 10, 2018, p. 105.
[25] TSN, Oral Arguments on April 10, 2018, p. 120.

After having served as a professor at the U.P. College of Law until 2006, and thereafter as practitioner in various outfits including as legal counsel for the Republic until 2009, the respondent submitted her application for the position of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in July 2010.

In support of her application as Associate Justice, respondent submitted to the Office of Recruitment Selection and Nomination (ORSN) of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) her SALN for the year 2006.26 This SALN for 2006 bears no stamp received by the U.P. HRDO and was signed on July 27, 2010.27 According to respondent, the JBC considered her nomination for the position of Associate Justice as that of a private practitioner and not as a government employee.28 Only recently, in a letter29 to the ORSN dated February 2, 2018, likewise attached to her Ad Cautelam Manifestation/Submission, respondent would explain that such SALN was really intended to be her SALN as of July 27, 2010.30 Respondent further explained during the Oral Arguments that she merely downloaded the SALN form and forgot to erase the year “2006” printed thereon and that she was not required by the ORSN to submit a subscribed SALN.31

Thus, as the certifications executed by the U.P. HRDO, the Ombudsman and the ORSN of the JBC stand, the only SALNs available on record and filed by respondent were those for the calendar years 1985, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, and 2002 or eleven (11) SALNs filed in her 20-year government service in U.P. No SALNs were filed from 2003 to 2006 when she was employed as legal counsel for the Republic. Neither was there a SALN filed when she resigned from U.P. College of Law as of June 1, 2006 and when she supposedly re-entered government service as of August 16, 2010.

In tabular form, respondent’s inclusive years in government employment vis-a-vis the SALNs filed by her and available on record are as follows:

[26] Id. at 67-70.
[27] Id.
[28] Id. at 174.
[29] Id. at 1729-1730.
[30] TSN, Committee on Justice of the House of Representatives.
[31] TSN, Oral Arguments dated April 10, 2018.

As faculty member of the l 1.P. College of L~m:
Year SALN ought to be filed SALN actually filed by
respondent
November SALN as of November SALN ending December
1986 1986 (entry SALN) 31, 1985
-no record of SALN as of
November 1986 (entry
SALN)-
1987 SALN ending December -no record-
31, 1986
1988 SALN ending December -no record-
31, 1987
1989 SALN ending December -no record-
31, 1988
1990 SALN ending December SALN ending December
31, 1989 31, 1989 (sourced by
respondent from one of the
“filing cabinets” or
“drawers” of U.P.)
1991 SALN ending December SALN ending December
31, 1990 31, 1990
1992 SALN ending December SALN ending December
31, 1991 31, 1991
1993 SALN ending December -no record-
31, 1992
1994 SALN ending December SALN ending December
31, 1993 31, 1993
1995 SALN ending December SALN ending December
31, 1994 31, 1994
1996 SALN ending December SALN ending December
31, 1995 31, 1995
1997 SALN ending December SALN ending December
31, 1996 31, 1996
1998 SALN ending December SALN ending December
31, 1997 31, 1997
1999 SALN ending December SALN ending December
31, 1998 31, 1998 (filed with the
Ombudsman on December
16, 2003)

2000 SALN ending December -no record-
31, 1999
2001 SALN ending December -no record-
31,2000
2002 SALN ending December -no record-
31,2001
– ·- ·— — –
Decision 8 · G.R. No. 237428
2003 SALN ending December SALN ending December
31,2002 31,2002
2004 SALN ending December -no record-
3l,2003
2005 SALN ending December -no record-
31, 2004
2006 SALN ending December -no record-
3l,2005
June 1, 2006 SALN as of June 1, 2006 -no record of SALN as of
(exit SALN) June 1, 2006 (exit SALN)-

Alleged break in government service from June 2, 2006 until
August 15, 2009 but was engaged as legal counsel for the
Republic from June 2, 2006 to 2009.
August
2010

As Associate Justice of the Supreme Court:
16, SALN as of August 16, SALN ending December
2010 (re-entry SALN) 31, 2009 but filed with the
Office of the Clerk of
Court En Banc only on
June 22, 2012 and
unsubscribed
-no record of SALN as of
August 16, 2010 (re-entry
SALN)-
2011 SALN ending December SALN ending December
31, 2010 31, 2010 but unsubscribed
i——–
2012 SALN ending December SALN ending December
31, 2011 31, 2011

A month after, or on August 13, 2010, respondent was appointed by then President Benigno C. Aquino III (President Aquino III) as Associate Justice, and on August 16, 2010, respondent took her oath of office as such.

When the position of the Chief Justice was declared vacant in 2012, the JBC announced32 the opening for application and recommendation of the position of Chief Justice. During the 2012 deliberations for the position of the Chief Justice, the members of the JBC En Banc were Associate Justice Diosdado M. Peralta (Justice Peralta) as Acting ex officio Chairman; Undersecretary Michael Frederick L. Musngi as ex officio member vice Leila M. De Lima; Senator Francis Joseph G. Escudero and Representative Niel Tupas as ex officio members representing the Congress; Justice Regino C. Hermosisima Jr. as regular member representing the retired Supreme Court Justices; Justice Aurora Santiago Lagman as regular member representing the Private Sector; Atty. Maria Milagros N. Fernan-Cayosa as regular member representing the Integrated Bar of the Philippines; and Atty. Jose V.

[32] Id. at 83.

Mejia as regular member representing the academe. The JBC Executive Committee (Execom) was composed of the JBC Regular Members and assisted by the Office of the Executive Officer (OEO) headed by Atty. Annaliza S. Ty-Capacite (Atty. Capacite ).

The JBC announcement was preceded by an En Banc meeting held on June 4, 2012 wherein the JBC agreed to require the applicants for the Chief Justice position to submit, instead of the usual submission of the SALNs for the last two years of public service, all previous SALNs up to December 31, 2011 for those in government service. 33 However, for the other judicial vacancies, the JBC required the submission of only two SALNs.34

Accordingly, in the Announcement35 published on June 5, 2012, the JBC specifically directed the ~andidates for the Chief Justice post to submit, in addition to the usual documentary requirements, the following:

(1) Sworn Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Networth (SALN):

a. for those in the government: all previous SALNs (up to 31 December 2011)

b. for those from the private sector: SALN as of 31 December 2011

(2) Waiver in favor of the JBC of the confidentiality of local and foreign bank accounts under the Bank Secrecy Law and Foreign Currency Deposits Act. 36 (Emphasis ours)

The JBC announcement further provided that “applicants with incomplete or out-of-date documentary requirements will not be interviewed or considered for nomination.”37

Nevertheless, the JBC En Banc subsequently agreed to extend the deadline for the filing of applications or recommendations to July 2, 2012 and the submission of the other documentary requirements to July 17, 2012.38

On June 25, 2012, the JBC En Banc resolved not to require the incumbent Supreme Court Justices who are candidates for the Chief Justice position to submit other documentary requirements, particularly the required clearances. Instead, the JBC En Banc required the incumbent Justices to submit only the SALNs, bank waiver, medical certificate, laboratory results and the PDS.

[33] TSN dated February 12, 2018, X-3, Committee on Justice ofthe House of Representatives; see also Joint Comment of JBC Regular Members Atty. Jose V. Mejia and Atty. Maria Milagros Fernan-Cayosa (Re: Resolution dated 20 February 2018) in A.M. No. 17-11-12-SC and A.M. No. 17-11-17-SC.
[34] JBC Announcement dated June 19, 2012; id. at 2190.
[35] Id. at 84-86.
[36] Id. at 83.
[37] Id. at 86. \,:
[38] JBC Announcement dated June 19, 2012; id. at 2190. ‘(\

On July 2, 2012, respondent accepted several nominations from the legal and the evangelical community for the position of Chief Justice and in support of her nomination, respondent submitted to the ORSN her SALNs for the years 2009,39 2010,40 and 2011.41 Respondent also executed a waiver of confidentiality42 of her local and foreign bank accounts.43

On July 6, 2012, or even before the deadline of the submission of the documentary requirements on July 17, 2012, the JBC En Banc came up with a long list of the candidates totaling twenty-two (22), respondent included, and scheduled the public interview of said candidates on July 24-27, 2012.44

On July 20, 2012, the JBC in its Special En Banc Meeting,45 deliberated on the candidates for the position of Chief Justice with incomplete documentary requirements. In particular, the JBC examined the list of candidates and their compliance with the required submission of SALNs. The minutes of the JBC deliberation reveal as follows:

xx xx

The Executive Officer asked for clarification, particularly with respect to SALNs, whether five (5) SALNs would constitute a substantial compliance if the candidate has been in the government service for twenty (20) years.

The Council examined the list with regard to the SALNs, particularly the candidates coming from the government, and identified who among them would be considered to have substantially complied:

1. Justice Arturo D. Brion – has substantially complied
2. Justice Antonio T. Carpio – has substantially complied
3. Secretary Leila M. De Lima- has substantially complied
4. Chairperson Teresita J. Herbosa- has complied
5. Solicitor General Francis H. Jardeleza – has complied
6. Justice Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro – has sµbstantially complied
7. Dean Raul C. Pangalangan

[39] Id. at 71-72.
[40] Id. at 73-74.
[41] Id. at 75-77.
[42] Id. at 269.
[43] Id. at 174-175.
[44] Minutes of JBC Meeting dated July 6, 2012.
[45] Annex “17” of the Comment.

The Executive Officer informed the Council that Dean Pangalangan lacks five (5) SALNs. She was informed that he could not obtain them from the U.P., but he is trying to get from the Civil Service Commission.

Justice Lagman moved that the SALNs of Dean Pangalangan be considered as substantial compliance.

8. Congressman Rufus B. Rodriguez
Justice Peralta said that as per the report, Congressman Rodriguez did not submit even one SALN. He commented that he may not be interested although he accepted his nomination.
The Executive Officer informed the Council that he is abroad. He was notified through email, as his secretary would not give his contact number.
9. Commissioner Rene V. Sarmiento-has lacking SALNs
10. Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno
The Executive Officer informed the Council that she had not submitted her SALNs for a period of ten (10) years, that is, from 1986 to 2006.
Senator Escudero mentioned that Justice Sereno was his professor at U.P. and that they were required to submit SALNs during those years.
11. Judge Manuel DJ Siayngco – has complied Atty. Cayosa mentioned that Judge Siayngco has to submit a certificate of exemption because judges are also required to comply with that requirement.
12. Dean Amado D. Valdez – has lacking requirements
13. Justice Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr. – has complied
14. Atty. Vicente R. Velasquez – has lacking requirements
15. Dean Cesar L. Villanueva – has lacking requirements
16. Atty. Ronaldo B. Zamora – has lacking SALNs and MCLE cert.
xx x x.46 (Emphasis ours)

[46] Id. at 288-289.

Because there were several candidates with incomplete documentary requirements, the JBC En Banc agreed to again extend the deadline for the submission of the lacking requirements to July 23, 2012 and that the determination of whether a candidate has substantially complied with the requirements be delegated to the Execom. It also appears that the JBC En Banc further agreed that the candidates who fail to complete the requirements on said date are to be excluded from the list of candidates to be interviewed and considered for nomination, unless they would be included if in the determination of the Execom he or she has substantially complied.47

Thus, on July 20, 2012, the ORSN, through its then Chief Atty. Richard Pascual (Atty. Pascual), inquired as to respondent’s SALNs for the years 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1999. 48 During the Congressional hearings on impeachment, Atty. Pascual would later on testify that he asked respondent to submit her SALNs from 1996 to 2006, or spanning a period of 10 years. 49

During the Oral Arguments, respondent would maintain that Atty. Pascual only required her to submit her SALN s from 1995-1999 and did not ask for her more recent SALN s. Either way, the years requested from respondent are within the period (1986 to 2006) covered by her employment with the U.P. College ofLaw.

In response, the respondent, in the afternoon of July 23, 2012, transmitted a letter50 of even date to the JBC, which stated:

xx xx

As I had noted in my Personal Data Sheet, after my resignation from government service in 2006, as a professor at the University of the Philippines, I became a full-time private practitioner. Hence, when I was nominated for the position of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in 2010, my nomination was considered as that of a private practitioner, and not as a government employee. Thus, the requirements imposed on me in connection with the consideration of my name, were those imposed on nominees from the private sector, and my earlier-terminated government service, did not control nor dominate the kind of requirements imposed on me.

Considering that most of my government records in the academe are more than fifteen years old, it is reasonable to consider it infeasible to retrieve all of those files.

In any case, the University of the Philippines has already cleared me of all academic/administrative responsibilities, money and property accountabilities and from administrative charges as of O 1 June 2006. Since it is the ministerial duty of the Head of the Office to ensure that the SALNs of its personnel are properly filed and accomplished (CSC

[47] Id. at 289-290.
[48] Id. at 270-271.
[49] House Committee Hearing on February 27, 2018.
[50] Id. at 78-79 and 270-271.

Resolution No. 060231 dated 01 February 2006 and CSC Memorandum Circular No. 10-2006 dated 17 April 2006), this clearance can be taken as an assurance that my previous government employer considered the SALN requirements to have been met. A copy of the Clearance dated 19 September 2011 issued by the University of the Philippine~ is hereby attached.

In the 05 June 2012 Announcement, the Judicial and Bar Council imposed the requirement of submitting all previous SALNs for those in the government. As I pointed out earlier, my service in government is not continuous. The period of my private practice between my service in the University of the Philippines ending in 2006 and my appointment to the Supreme Court in 2010 presents a break in government service. Hence, in compliance with the documentary requirements for my candidacy as Chief Justice, I submitted only the SALN s from end of 2009 up to 31 December 2011, since I am considered to have been returned to public office and rendered government service anew from the time of my appointment as Associate Justice on 16 August 2010.

Considering that I have been previously cleared from all administrative responsibilities and accountabilities from my entire earlier truncated government service, may I kindly request that the requirements that I need to comply with, be similarly viewed as that from a private sector, before my appointment to the Government again m 2010 as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

xx x x[51]

The letter dated July 23, 2012 was received by the Office of the Administrative and Financial Services (OAFS) and copies thereof were received by the offices of the JBC regular members, the ORSN and the OE0.52 The letter, however, was neither examined by the JBC regular members nor was it deliberated upon either by the JBC En Banc or the Execom. 53 Although the determination of whether a candidate has substantially complied with the documentary requirements was delegated to the Execom, the latter could not produce any minutes of the meeting or record that the members thereof deliberated on the July 23, 2012 letter of respondent. 54

[51] Id. at 78-79.
[52] See Comment of Executive Officer Atty. Capacite in A.M. No. 17-11-12~SC and A.M. No. 17-11-17-SC, p. 5.
[53] See Joint Comment of Atty. Mejia and Atty. Cayosa in A.M. No. 17-11-12-SC and A.M. No. 17-11-17-SC, p. 6.
[54] Letter dated April 6, 2018 of Atty. Capacite to the Office of Justice Tijam, certifying that there was no such minutes of meeting. The letter states:

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