MANILA (MindaNews / 26 April) — In the Philippines, scandals, tsismis and fake news (STF for short) are part of the daily news diet. I have no idea how many of our citizens care to read the papers or how many are active in social media. For the majority, word of mouth is an effective carrier of STF, and travels faster and farther. There is that symbiotic relationship between word of mouth and media. Sourced from either platform, these raw morsels of STF are then either distorted, embellished and presented to the public as truth. In social media, internet trolls on both sides of the argument or advocacies are then engaged in a frenzy of spin, effectively taking over the political conversation.
More often than not, this job is assigned to favored stooges with government sinecures who have large social media following; talking heads and lawyers with the leash tightly held by Malacañang. They then proffer these fables to the public in double-speak.
Take the example of the quo warranto petition against beleaguered Chief Justice (on leave) Maria Lourdes Sereno brought by Solicitor General Jose Calida. Ordinary Filipinos take this simply as “lawyer’s mumbo-jumbo.” According to Calida’s suit, Sereno’s appointment as Chief Justice is not valid “ab initio” (from the very beginning) and “…requires her to show by what authority she exercises her assumption to public office.”
Sereno opined: “If they succeed [in removing]an impeachable officer nearly six years after her appointment, then every sitting justice will no longer be independent.” (PDI, April 12, 2018)
True enough! Why only now, after six years? The ordinary Filipino would rather not participate in this “moro-moro” and with a mind of his own prefer a narrative which is simple, linear and honest.
President Duterte wants her ousted. She has provoked the anger of the President. Many believe this started when she clashed with the Deegong early in his administration in August 2016. Du30 made the mistake of naming judges allegedly involved in illegal drugs, some of whom had long been retired and one long dead. DU30 backed down from a confrontation with the feisty lady who insisted on her prerogatives and the independence of the judiciary. But she had drawn first blood. The President’s disdain for the chief justice could have started at this point.
Rubbing salt on the wound, she has consistently voted against Duterte’s policies that have been elevated to the high court: a hero’s burial for the dictator Marcos, and the declaration of martial law in Mindanao to contain the IS rebellion, among others.
And lately, Sereno lashed out at DU30’s perceived drift towards authoritarianism. “The current state of the nation is one where perceived enemies of the dominant order are considered fair game for harassment, intimidation and persecution, where shortcuts are preferred over adherence to constitutional guarantees of human rights, including the denial of due process,” Sereno said.
“Coarseness, including the denigration of women, rather than civility, marks the language of the podium,” she added. (Nikkei Asian Review, March 8, 2018)
This could be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Who is this Lourdes Sereno who has the balls to stand up to the macho president?
Sereno had been chief justice for five years prior to DU30’s ascendancy. She took her position seriously as head of the judiciary, co-equal to the executive and legislative branches of government. She was installed as chief justice after the impeachment of CJ Corona and after having been scrutinized and recommended by the Judicial and Bar Council.
Corona himself earned the ire of the Aquinos on some high court decisions against the Aquino/Cojuangco interests. PNoy used his office to allegedly bribe the senators with DAP money to impeach Corona.
PNoy’s inexperienced niña bonita, appointed at a very young age (57 in 2012), will be sitting as CJ for the next several years (70 years old in 2030) outliving those in the current bench. This did not sit well with the other justices, all senior to her, drooling over the CJ post.
A quo warranto petition was filed by the Solicitor General. Knowing how the DU30 can be intimidating to his cabinet, no way will Calida act without the Deegong’s imprimatur. DU30’s assertions that he did not have a hand in this is simply not plausible.
Sereno took the bait, asking the Deegong publicly to show his hand. This allowed DU30 to accommodate her challenge, thus his declaration: “I am putting you on notice that I’m now your enemy and you have to be out of the Supreme Court.” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 10, 2018)
There is no mumbo-jumbo in the PRRD’s language. Sereno, the head of another co-equal branch, became an enemy once she stepped on the almighty’s toes and he wants her head.
What next? Sereno could be booted out by her peers on this quo warranto petition, but this would look funny. She has been a member of the bench for a good part of a decade. Would these good justices now “require her to show by what authority she exercises her assumption to public office”?
The success of this quo warranto petition will have a lasting effect. A precedent having been established, any SolGen in the future will have the ability to bring quo warranto petitions against any of them. This in fact is a hanging sword of Damocles of their own making.
The issues of Sereno’s alleged corruption, profligate lifestyle and imperial tendencies will not be taken up in this quo warranto petition. These are issues rightly lodged in an impeachment proceeding against impeachable officials.
If Chief Justice Sereno’s peers will shamelessly abide by the dictates of their personal agenda, they will boot her out on this quo warranto petition. But their reputation will be left in tatters as they shall have been reduced to mere lap dogs of the executive branch.
Impeach her, if you must! But go through the proper constitutional process. (This column first appeared in The Manila Times issue of April 18,2018 http://www.manilatimes.net/the-supreme-court-a-co-equal-branch/393335/.Lito Monico C. Lorenzana, a Dabawenyo based in Manila, served under four Philippine Presidents as a member of the Cabinet and several Commissions. A Harvard Kennedy School of Government-educated political technocrat, he was one of the prime movers of the Citizens Movement for Federal Philippines, Secretary General of the 2005 Consultative Commission, and one of the founders of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines, Ang Partido ng Tunay na Demokrasya and the Centrist Democracy Political Institute)