By Victor Avecilla | Daily Tribune
“While impeachment and quo warranto have the same ultimate objective of unseating a public official, there are marked differences between the two.
Last Monday, 7 December 2020, the head of a good governance advocacy group filed an impeachment complaint against Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen before the House of Representatives of Congress.
Known critics of the government quickly labelled the impeachment complaint as a highly politicized measure.
Politicized? Apparently, they don’t realize that an impeachment complaint is obviously a politicized act precisely because the impeachment process falls within the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress, which is a highly political branch of the government.
Two days ago, Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez, who sits as vice chairman of the House’s Justice Committee, announced during a television news interview that pursuant to Article XI of the Constitution, it is only Congress that may remove impeachable public officials.
He added, “I believe that the Supreme Court will not commit the same mistake of having a quo warranto (sic) against impeachable officials because under the Constitution, only the House will impeach and only the Senate will hear and remove.”
Rodriguez is mistaken.
There is no doubt that under Article XI of the Constitution, Congress has the exclusive power to oust from office, through impeachment, any impeachable official including, among others, the President, Vice President and a Justice of the Supreme Court.
On the other hand, a proceeding for quo warranto allows a court of law to remove any public official who does not possess the qualifications required for holding the office which he was elected or appointed to.
More specifically, quo warranto — Latin for “Where is your authority?” — is the means by which the State, acting through the Solicitor General, ousts from public office anyone who is not qualified to hold that public office in the first place.
Without quo warranto proceedings, the State will be unable to unseat any public official who is legally disqualified for the public office he was elected or appointed to.
Quo warranto proceedings, therefore, protect the public interest.
The Supreme Court and lower courts are authorized to issue a writ of quo warranto pursuant to Rule 66 of the Rules of Court (the rules promulgated by the Supreme Court to govern procedure in courts of law).
While impeachment and quo warranto have the same ultimate objective of unseating a public official, there are marked differences between the two.
Impeachment is within the exclusive domain of Congress. It covers only those public officers enumerated in Section 2, Article XI of the Constitution mentioned earlier. Under that provision of the Charter, the grounds for impeachment are limited to culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, and betrayal of public trust.
Disqualification from a specific public office is not among the grounds listed in the Constitution for the removal, through the impeachment process, of an incumbent public official.
A petition for quo warranto is the proper way to unseat any official who is disqualified from the public office he was elected or appointed to.
Quo warranto cannot, however, be resorted to in removing an impeachable official for any of the grounds for impeachment enumerated in Section 2, Article XI of the Constitution.
In other words, an impeachable official can be unseated in two ways — (1) through the impeachment process for any of the grounds listed in Section 2, Article XI of the Constitution, and (2) through quo warranto proceedings if the impeachable official does not have the qualifications for the public office he was elected or appointed to.
Both remedies may be availed of simultaneously.
That was why in 2018, the Supreme Court ousted then Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno from office through quo warranto, even though an impeachment proceeding against her was pending in Congress at the same time.
Rodriguez insists that the constitutional power of Congress to remove officials through the impeachment process is superior to the power of the Supreme Court to issue a writ of quo warranto under its own procedural rules.
He is mistaken anew.
In the first place, the Sereno ouster by quo warranto is already a judicial precedent. Moreover, Section 2, Article VIII of the Constitution explicitly prohibits Congress from depriving the Supreme Court of its power over petitions for quo warranto.