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The audacity of youth

When Bill Clinton was elected president of the United States in 1993, he was only 47 years old, a young man compared to his predecessors who were so much older when they reached high office.  For the first time in my life, the president of the most powerful nation in the world was my contemporary. We were both born in 1946.

In 2009, when Barack Obama was elected president, he was only 48 years old. Born in 1961, the same year as my oldest nephew, he was the most powerful man in the world.  I was 63, almost a generation older than him. I was starting to feel old and irrelevant. 

President Benigno S. Aquino III was born in 1960 and was 50 years old when he became president of the Philippines in 2010. He organized a young Cabinet of technocrats who were his companions growing up, bypassing his mother’s former Cabinet members who had hoped to help. And setting tradition aside, he appointed the most junior member of the Supreme Court, Ma. Lourdes A. Sereno, as Chief Justice.

Sereno began heading the High Court in 2012 at age 52, the second youngest and the first woman to head the august body.  After five years on the job, she isn’t even old enough to have a senior citizen’s card! God-willing, she will be Chief Justice until 2030, when she turns 70.

What must President Aquino have been thinking when he named Sereno to be Chief Justice? And why would such a young woman willingly give up her social life to ensure that politics and vested interests  will not influence her objectivity? It is not as if all members of the High Court are as mindful of their impartiality, but I know CJ Sereno is.

I remember the late Haydee Yorac, a brilliant, no-nonsense lawyer who restored the credibility of the Comelec after the EDSA People Power revolution. With her independence of mind, wit and erudition, Haydee was a shoo-in for the Supreme Court. But she wasn’t interested. She told me, “What will I do in the company of all those fuddy-duddies in the Court? It would be so boring!”

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In a leadership position, youth can be both a blessing and a curse. With our present demographics of a very young population, a youthful person at the helm of the office should be able to relate well with the majority. The older justices will find this difficult to accept, but more than years of experience, the audacity and exuberance of youth are probably what the High Court needs to bring this venerable institution to the 21st century.

However, in an institution of fuddy-duddies like the Supreme Court, many of whom hope to be appointed Chief Justice before they retire, the youth and independence of the Chief Justice, plus the toxic politics of the day, seem to have gotten in the way of her acceptance by her colleagues. Age and experience are naturally suspicious, if not jealous, of a younger, less experienced colleague whose tenure of 18 years will outlast them all.

Who was it who wrote, “Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance”? 

CJ Sereno is a woman on fire, bringing the 30,000-strong bureaucracy into the digital age. She enumerates her successes under the four pillars of judicial reform: institutionalized integrity and increased credibility; rational, predictable, speedy, and appropriate judicial action; improved infrastructure, systems, and processes; and effective and efficient human resources.

The current reforms are aimed at decongesting the SC and lower courts with, among others,  speedy trials, the creation of special courts, automation of raffling, processing and management of cases and of administrative processes, the creation of eCourts and automated hearings, and an infrastructure program for the rehabilitation of halls of justice and the building of new ones, including the New Supreme Court complex that will rise at the Bonifacio Global City.

For all her effort and creativity, CJ Sereno has earned the admiration of the legal profession, but only the grudging approval of most of her colleagues. CJ Sereno is facing the battle of her life in Congress where  an impeachment complaint filed by a lawyer, who has hinted that he is supported by several members of the High Court, has been found to be sufficient in both form and substance. In addition, the President, himself a septuagenarian, has prematurely pronounced the Chief Justice guilty of living an extravagant lifestyle, among other false allegations of so-called impeachable offenses.

Who was it who wrote, “Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance”?

CJ Sereno knows that something greater than her honor is at stake here.  With integrity, great courage, and youthful energy, she is fighting fiercely to protect, primarily, the institution and independence of the Supreme Court. Her detractors are out to silence and humiliate her, but armed with the truth (“They have absolutely no evidence against me”) and the audacity of youth, she intends to prevail. 

Stand with CJ Sereno for judicial independence and the truth.

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