Ian Alfredo Magno .
AMID the progressing move to oust the incumbent Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from her post, perhaps one has, in an occasion or two, come across the term “quo warranto.” The ouster attempt is fueled by an alleged “integrity issue” for failure to file the statutorily required Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth or SALN. Meanwhile, such legal jargon is fast-becoming a household word as the Solicitor General throws an unprecedented “quo warranto” pitch versus an impeachable officer in government.
Nope, neither does it have any relevance, in any way, with the like-sounding warrant of arrest nor search warrant – nor warranties in general, for that matter. Really, therefore, what is quo warranto in the first place, and what is its essence as a writ?
Legal dictionaries refer to quo warranto as a Latin term which actually means, “By what right?” It has its origin in English common law as an action commenced by the monarch to determine if a person was authentically exercising a privilege or position granted by the crown. In effect, it determines whether the person merely intruded into a royal prerogative. As a proceeding, it is an avenue whereby one could challenge another’s right to hold an office or governmental privilege. Hence, the writ is in essence an attack to the legitimacy of an officer’s tenure in office. In the same vein, it may be directed against an association which masquerades as a corporation but which is not actually duly incorporated or authorized as such.
Section 1 of Rule 66, Quo Warranto, under Special Civil Actions of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure categorically provides, to wit:
“Section 1. Action by Government against individuals. — An action for the usurpation of a public office, position or franchise may be commenced by a verified petition brought in the name of the Republic of the Philippines against:
(a) A person who usurps, intrudes into, or unlawfully holds or exercises a public office, position or franchise;
(b) A public officer who does or suffers an act which, by the provision of law, constitutes a ground for the forfeiture of his office; or
(c) An association which acts as a corporation within the Philippines without being legally incorporated or without lawful authority so to act. (1a)”
Back to the Chief Justice’s ouster. Luminaries share contradicting views on whether the Solicitor General’s quo warranto pitch would prosper in removing the chief magistrate, or whether it is the proper action for such purpose in the first place.
The thing is the Chief Justice of the Supreme is among the constitutionally pronounced impeachable officers who could be removed from office via the process of impeachment only. The other impeachable officers are, of course, the President, Vice President, Members of the Constitutional Commissions, Ombudsman, and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court. Taking this into context, the quo warranto case may appear to be an unfitting legal move to “remove” the Chief Justice.
However, one expert expressed his view that the Constitution’s mandate on the impeachability of the Chief Justice would not be violated. This is because should the Supreme Court decide in favor of the quo warranto card, it would not technically remove the Chief Justice who is to be regarded as one who merely had no valid appointment to office at the very start. Accordingly, when one has no valid appointment to an office, taking him/her out does not categorically constitute a “removal” from an office he/she never legally occupied at the onset.
On the other hand, one luminary has expressed that “taking out” the Chief Justice via quo warranto on the basis of an “integrity issue” may estabish a dangerous precedent, which could threaten the future stability of the Supreme Court as an institution.
On a personal note, both experts carry substantial truth to their respective opinions. Yet whatever the outcome would be, the matter is best left to the wisdom of the Supreme Court – being the highest court in the land.
In hindsight, we first saw friction between the President of the Republic and the Chief Justice when the latter criticized the former’s serious war on drugs. Who would have thought that such rift would reach such lengths as this? As the present administration braces to gain momentum towards the end of the first half of its term – for whatever purpose it may serve – undoubtedly, history is unfolding before our very eyes like never before. These are exciting times indeed.