Republic v. Sereno and its Aftermath: The Politicization of Quo Warranto Petitions

By: Bryan Jay L. Santos[1]


Despite our most solid belief that we are right, we should still have the humility

to be open to the possibility that others may not see it our way.

– Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic M. V. F. Leonen

in his Dissenting Opinion in Republic v. Sereno

      On May 11, 2018, the Supreme Court of the Philippines, in one fell swoop, ousted its own Chief Justice. The decision in Republic v. Sereno[2] took the Office of Solicitor General’s (OSG) position that even impeachable officials can be removed from office via a quo warranto petition. The decision discarded the traditional concept of removing impeachable officials from office only through impeachment proceedings. Sereno’s removal even prompted Associate Justice Marvic M. V. F. Leonen to call it a “legal abomination.”[3]

      But by and large, the Sereno decision, aptly described as sui generis or “in a class by itself,” has set a legal precedent for cases based on quo warranto petitions by the OSG. The decision has engendered fears that the OSG has found a way to silence those in the government service who espouse views that are contrary to the current administration’s position.


      The Court explained in Sereno that “at its most basic, impeachment proceedings are political in nature, while an action for quo warranto is judicial or a proceeding traditionally lodged in courts.”[4] Section 2, Article XI of the 1987 Constitution specifies the grounds for impeachment and those officials that may be impeached:

               Section 2. The President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Supreme Court, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust. All other public officers and employees may be removed from office as provided by law, but not by impeachment.

       The Court points out that impeachment is “essentially a political process meant to vindicate the violation of the public’s trust.” The Constitution vests in the House of Representatives the power to initiate all cases of impeachment. Meanwhile, it vests in the Senate the power to try and decide all the cases.[5] Any member of the House of Representatives or any citizen with an endorsement of any member of the House of Representatives may file an impeachment complaint.[6]

               Meanwhile, Rule 66 of the Rules of Court defines a quo warranto petition as:

               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.

      This rule allows the Solicitor General to commence the action before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila, the Court of Appeals (CA), or even the Supreme Court (Court). Procedural law shows that a quo warranto petition proceeds independently from an impeachment case, even if the two may result in the same outcome: the removal of an impeachable official.


      In Sereno, the Court tackled the OSG’s petition for being a matter of transcendental importance, which is an exception to the doctrine of hierarchy of courts.[7] The Court ruled that the one-year prescription on quo warranto cases applies only to private citizens and not to the State. The Court took the OSG’s position that the State has an imprescriptible right to bring a quo warranto petition under the Latin maxim “nullum tempus occurit regi.”[8] As applied in Sereno, this maxim shows that when the State, through the Solicitor General, files a case on behalf of the people or when the matter involves the interest of the general public, the lapse of time constitutes no bar to the proceeding.[9] Thus, prescription or laches will not be a defense when the government is the real party in interest.  The Court found that Sereno had consistently failed to file her Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) for her years of service in the government, particularly during the period she was affiliated with the University of the Philippines. The Court held in no uncertain terms that the SALN requirement is mandatory.[10] It ruled that her failure to file her SALNs reflected on her lack of integrity: a continuing qualification for a member of the Judiciary.[11]

      Sereno’s inconsistent filing of her SALNs as a professor at the University of the Philippines disqualified her at the outset for the position of Chief Justice in 2012. The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), which screens and recommends applicants to posts in the Judiciary,[12] required the then applicants to submit their past ten (10) SALNs, specifically for  2001 to 2011. Despite this rule, the Court found it bizarre for the JBC to have accepted Sereno’s submission of only three (3) SALNs and her justification-explanation letter indicating that her other SALNS were “infeasible to retrieve.” The OSG disputed this by presenting some of Sereno’s “missing” SALNs.[13] As ruled by the Court, Sereno’s blatant disregard of the JBC rule on SALN submission manifested her lack of integrity. She violated not only the JBC rules but also the law and the Constitution.

      Sereno’s defense consistently relied on the “Doblada doctrine,” which pertains to the Court’s decision in Concerned Taxpayer v. Doblada, Jr.[14] In this case, Norberto Doblada, a court sheriff, was accused of failing to file his SALNs for 18 years based on the investigation of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA). However, Doblada presented evidence[15] that he had filed one of the SALNs that he allegedly failed to file. The Court held in this case that “one cannot readily conclude that respondent failed to file his sworn [SALNs] … simply because these documents are missing[.]” Sereno thus passed the buck to the OSG to show that she did not file her SALNs in the contested years and not just rely on their finding that the SALNs were simply no longer on file in the relevant offices.[16]

      The Court found that the Doblada case is not on all fours with the circumstances surrounding Sereno’s alleged non-filing of her SALNs. The Court highlighted the fact that based on the evidence presented, “the existence of [the] SALNs and the fact of filing thereof were neither established by direct proof constituting substantial evidence nor by mere inference.”[17] Moreover, the Court found in Doblada that there was no categorical statement from the OCA, the repository agency for the SALNs of employees of the Judiciary, that the contested SALNs were not on file. This was not the same circumstance in Sereno’s case. The Office of the Ombudsman, the repository agency of Sereno’s SALNs, categorically stated that Sereno has no SALNs filed for the contested years. Thus, the Ombudsman’s categorical statement and Sereno’s inability to show proof of her filing said SALNs conclusively established that she did not file them.

      Finally, that former President Benigno Simeon Aquino III eventually appointed Sereno as Chief Justice did not cure her ineligibility and lack of integrity. In Maquiling v. COMELEC,[18]the Court ruled that qualifications for public office must be possessed at the time of appointment and assumption to office and during the officer’s entire tenure as a continuing requirement. Hence, the Court found Sereno to have unlawfully held the position of, and exercised the powers vested in, the Chief Justice. 


      People have expressed fears that a quo warranto petition may be weaponized against any public officer, impeachable or not. After Sereno, some quo warranto petitions have made headlines locally. In 2018, former presidential candidate Elly Pamatong filed such an action against President Rodrigo Duterte. He claimed that President Duterte was not qualified to become President when the latter filed his Certificate of Candidacy (COC) in the 2016 elections because he initially filed his COC for mayor of Davao City.[19] Solicitor General Jose Calida (SolGen Calida) sought to have the petition dismissed for false allegations because the COMELEC already affirmed Duterte’s COC as valid and effective.[20] Interestingly, SolGen Calida said that Pamatong’s petition “trivialized the rules of procedure.”

      In February last year, SolGen Calida filed a quo warranto petition against broadcasting network ABS-CBN for unlawfully exercising its franchise by broadcasting for a fee and allowing foreign investors to participate in the network’s ownership.[21] The House of Representatives went on recess in March 2020 without tackling ABS-CBN’s franchise application, and on May 4, the franchise expired. The following day, the network went off the air. On June 23, the Court dismissed the quo warranto petition for being moot, following the expiration of the network’s franchise.[22] In July, the House Committee on Legislative Franchises denied the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN.

      The latest OSG-initiated quo warranto petition was against incumbent Associate Justice Leonen. Last year, some individuals attempted to retrieve Justice Leonen’s SALNs from the Office of the Ombudsman and found that some of his SALNs were not on file. Manila Times columnist Rigoberto Tiglao wrote that he had previously requested for copies of Leonen’s SALNs from the Office of the Ombudsman. The Office of the Ombudsman replied to his request and stated that Justice Leonen had missing SALNs on file, specifically for the years that he was still working at the University of the Philippines.[23] However, the Office of the Court Administrator rebuffed his similar request and noted that such documents are considered privileged communication. Lawyer Larry Gadon also sought to have copies of Leonen’s copies, but the Court firmly rejected his request.[24] To recall, Gadon filed an impeachment complaint against Sereno in 2017 and assisted in the filing of the impeachment complaint against Justice Leonen last year.

      The alleged non-filing of SALNs is reminiscent of the same ground which caused the ouster of Sereno. Making a case out of this, the OSG appealed to the Court to release the SALNs of Justice Leonen in preparation for a possible quo warranto proceeding against him.[25] However, the Court rebuffed the OSG’s unrelenting pursuit of Justice Leonen’s SALNs and reiterated the procedures for entertaining any request for copies of SALNs and personal data sheets of Supreme Court Justices and officers and employees of the Judiciary.[26] The OSG’s request met a similar fate in the hands of the Board of Regents of the University of the Philippines (UP-BOR). In the Minutes of the UP-BOR Meeting,[27] the Board of Regents deliberated on the OSG’s requests for copies of Justice Leonen’s SALNs from the University of the Philippines. It decided not to grant these requests in light of the Court’s earlier denial of the same requests from the OSG and pending legal advice.

       Certain quarters in the political arena forayed once again in filing an impeachment complaint, this time against Justice Leonen, seeking refuge in the landmark Sereno ruling that the non-filing of SALNs reflects on a public official’s integrity. Promptly, private citizen Edwin Cordevilla filed an impeachment complaint against Justice Leonen on December 7, 2020. Ilocos Norte Rep. Angelo Marcos Barba, the cousin of defeated Vice-Presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., promptly endorsed the complaint. The Speaker of the House of Representatives eventually calendared the impeachment complaint and later on referred the same before the Committee on Justice of the House of Representatives per House Rules. Based on the minutes of the meeting held on May 27, 2021,[28] the Committee on Justice, chaired by Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso III,  deliberated on the impeachment complaint, which cited three grounds:

        1. The respondent committed culpable violation of the Constitution for failing to dispose of at least 37 cases within 24 months as mandated under Section 15 (1), Article VIII, in relation to Section 16, Article III of the Constitution, which mandates the prompt action and speedy disposition of cases;
        2. The respondent arbitrarily delayed the resolution of cases pending before him as chairperson of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET); and
        3. The respondent failed to file his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) for a total of 15 years while working at the University of the Philippines.   

      On the same day and in the same meeting, the House Committee on Justice ruled that the impeachment complaint was insufficient in form. The Committee members found that none of the documents annexed to the complaint are authentic or certified true copies, in violation of the impeachment rules of the House. The members also noted that Cordevilla could not show that he has personal knowledge of the facts in his complaint or the acts and omissions that the complaint attributes to Justice Leonen. The members considered as hearsay the allegations supported only by annexed news articles.[29]


      Legal precedents bind Supreme Court decisions under the doctrine of stare decisis. Sereno put into the fore the nature of a quo warranto action and laid the doctrine that impeachable officials may be removed from office if they lacked the qualifications required before and during the holding of such office. Many perceive that the OSG is using the petition against personalities that have earned the administration’s ire.

       It is no secret that President Duterte publicly threatened to block ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal. While he could not legally do so, his allies in the House of Representatives made sure they carried out his will. Amid House hearings on the franchise renewal, the OSG hedged its bets and filed a quo warranto petition against the network.

      The impeachment complaint against Justice Leonen assails his “lack of integrity for failure to file his SALNs” and “negligence and incompetence for failing to dispose of the cases assigned to him in violation of the Constitution.” As if on cue, the OSG also sought to access Justice Leonen’s SALNs for a possible quo warranto proceeding, but to no avail.

     Has the Court inadvertently allowed the OSG to use the quo warranto action to threaten critical or “unfriendly” personalities? While the Court resolved Sereno as a legal matter, its ramifications have caused serious effects on local politics.

To be clear, Court did not start the politicization or weaponization of a quo warranto action. It merely clarified its use as a remedy under procedural law and applied it in Sereno. The Court cannot judge the intention of quo warranto petitioners because it is not a trier of facts. Besides, its judicial independence transcends the changes in the political landscape where the other two co-equal branches reside.

      However, it may be reasonable for the Court to discuss the procedure for filing a quo warranto petition against impeachable officials. It should establish the proper court jurisdiction for such an action, particularly applying the recent clarification on the doctrine of hierarchy of courts in Gios-Samar v. DOTC and CAAP.[30]It may even consider the imposition of penalties for people who trivialize a quo warranto petition to achieve personal or political wins.

      When an opportunity presents itself, the Court must take steps in harmonizing differing interpretations of Section 8 of R.A. No. 6713,[31] commonly referred to as the SALN Law. Because of the precedent-setting Sereno ruling on the relationship between a public official’s integrity and his (or her) non-filing of SALNs, there may soon be another case filed in courts involving the same or very similar issue.  The Court must settle the to preserve the country’s political structure and restore public trust in the government. Decisive action in favoring the greater good transcends even the most powerful, albeit impermanent, politicians and power players in the country.

      The Court must quash any attempt to seek the perversion of justice through shrewd maneuvers to poke holes into its decisions. It must not venture into any game of semantics and provide our legal system with the correct reading of the law. The Court’s infallibility resides not in the composition of sitting Justices or the brilliance of its decisions but in the fact that it is the “court of last resort.” With this in mind, the Court must express its wisdom on this matter before waiting for an actual controversy to avoid making its decision more controversial than the controversy already found therein.

[1]UST Law Review, Staff Member.

[2]G.R. No. 237428, May 11, 2018.

[3] Id.

[4] Id. at 48.

[5] CONST., art VI, sec 3.

[6] Official Gazette, Impeachment: A Political and Historical Guide, (last accessed June 4, 2021).

[7] The Diocese of Bacolod v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 205728, January 21, 2015.

[8] Id., note 2, at 24. This Latin phrase means “no time runs against the king.”

[9] Id., at 76

[10] Id., at 90-96. 

[11] CONST., art VIII, sec 7(3): A Member of the Judiciary must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence.

[12] CONST., art VIII, sec 8(5): The Council shall have the principal function of recommending appointees to the Judiciary. It may exercise such other functions and duties as the Supreme Court may assign to it.

[13] Id., note 2, at 120.

[14] 498 Phil. 395 (2005).

[15] Id. Based on a letter sent by the Acting Branch Clerk of Court of Branch 155, RTC, Pasig City.

[16] Id.,note 2, at 101.

[17] Id.,  at 102.

[18] 709 Phil. 408 (2013).

[19] Tetch Torres-Tupas, Calida asks SC to junk quo warranto case vs Duterte, September 3, 2018, 1027861/calida-asks-sc-to-junk-quo-warranto-case-vs-duterte (last accessed February 3, 2021).

[20] Edu Punay, SC asked to junk quo warranto case vs Duterte, September 4, 2018, (last accessed February 2, 2021).

[21] OSG files petition for quo warranto vs ABS-CBN; asks SC to forfeit legislative franchise, February 10, 2020, https:/ / (last accessed February 3, 2021).

[22] Rey Panaligan, SC junks quo warranto complaint vs ABS-CBN, June 30, 2020, (last accessed February 1, 2021).

[23] Rigoberto Tiglao, Leonen failed to file his SALNs like Sereno, but for more years, September 7, 2020, 09/07/opinion/columnists/topanalysis/leonen-failed-to-file-his-salns-like-sereno-but-for-more-years/765590 (last accessed June 07, 2021).

[24] Joel San Juan, SC affirms rejection of Gadon request for Leonen’s SALN, November 3, 2020, (last accessed June 07, 2021).

[25] Jomar Canlas, OSG readies quo warranto vs Leonen, November 2, 2020, national/osg-readies-quo-warranto-vs-leonen/790244/ (last accessed February 3, 2021).

[26] A.M. No. 09-8-6-SC, June 13, 2012.

[27] The University of the Philippines Gazette, Decisions of the Board of Regents, 1356th Meeting, Volume LI Issue Number 7, November 26, 2020, (last accessed June 05, 2021).

[28] House of Representatives, Committee Daily Bulletin, p. 12-13, in Vol. II No. 168, 18th Congress, Second Regular Session, (May 27, 2021).

[29] Id., at 13.

[30] G.R. No. 217158, March 12, 2019. Speaking through Justice Jardeleza, the Court En Banc ruled that: “Accordingly, for the guidance of the bench and the bar, we reiterate that when a question before the Court involves determination of a factual issue indispensable to the resolution of the legal issue, the Court will refuse to resolve the question regardless of the allegation or invocation of compelling reasons, such as the transcendental or paramount importance of the case. Such question must first be brought before the proper trial courts or the CA, both of which are specially equipped to try and resolve factual questions.”

[31] An Act Establishing a Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, to Uphold the Time-Honored Principle of Public Office Being a Public Trust, Granting Incentives and Rewards for Exemplary Service, Enumerating Prohibited Acts and Transactions and Providing Penalties for Violations thereof and for Other Purposes, Republic Act No. 6713, (1989).


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