Storm before the calm
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - March 3, 2018 - 12:00am

A presidential provocation, (2) a House impeachment, (3) a BIR probe, (4) a disclosure of psychological test results, (5) a quo warranto petition. The entire book has been thrown at Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes P.A. Sereno. And now, the kitchen sink: (6) public humiliation by her own brethren. Not since Senator Leila de Lima have we seen the terrible resources of government marshalled on one side against one woman.  Lesser souls would have long perished from the earth. 

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (PRRD) recently encouraged the President’s men to onionize their skins and defy the exercise of legitimate legislative power if they feel their dignity compromised. As counterpoint, we see the head of the Judiciary, the most powerful woman in the country, unflinchingly standing up to the indignities that cause unbearable anxiety in others.

Reputations have been destroyed and institutions diminished. At times, humanity and decency have disappeared. But, though demonized, she is still standing and the lady continues to fight. 

A curious case. Is this perseverance an act of moral courage or is it a case of desperate clinging to power? Many still wonder if the allegations are provable or if they’re even impeachable. There has to be a reason why usually staid and reserved magistrates suddenly shed their benign outer coating, open up the inner workings of their preserve and bizarrely serve up the Court’s history and reputation.

Senator Frank Drilon articulated the unease we all feel. The people expect this from the political branches but not the Court. How to react when our magistrates’ infighting takes center stage, whether by wounded court or wounded pride?

Blowin in the wind. What’s amazing is that more Filipinos know more of what Ma. Lourdes P.A. Sereno stands for than who she actually is. Until the Senate trial begins, I’m sure there are places the Chief could stroll down where she’d hardly be recognized. Those who do, am sure, would not think twice about asking for the requisite selfie. Its hard to whip up animosity against someone who you’re unsure has done anything wrong.

This is why the Chief is right not to resign. She is not fighting to redeem her own sanity and pride. The bruises and bumps are occupational hazards. She has never asked for quarter, from the time she was placed front and center of this most dangerous of pits.

Even if her colleagues see her as last instead of first among equals, she fights for something larger than herself. Hers is a stand for the importance of the process. The moral of her story is that the rule of law, at all costs, must be respected.

How did we get here? The Presidentlal ad hominem is really what started the ball rolling. She dared speak up against the administration’s centerpiece anti-drug campaign. This was the first public indication that the Judiciary under her was going to be serious in its role of checking its co-equal branches. 

The House Impeachment proceedings was notable mostly for its presentation of just one side of the issue and its unapologetic skepticism of the Chief Justice’s explanations (which they didn’t even allow in committee). The Senate will be a sea change. Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III’s assurance of a fair trial is anticipated. Lets see if the House allegations survive the scrutiny of cross examination. Finally, also, the Chief’s defense.

Pointing fingers. There are some who have placed their faith in the certainty of psychological test results. This, to them, is the strongest evidence of a lack of fitness for the position. Well, there is really no gainsaying that the office of Chief Justice should be spared from lunatics. But Ma. Lourdes P.A. Sereno is no lunatic. In fact, with these test results made public, she is the only member of government we know not to be crazy.

The psychologist’s conclusions were based only on observations of the demeanor of the Chief and an evaluation of her public statements. The “expert” did not even interview the Chief Justice face to face. The test results may be astonishing to the layman but to psychologists themselves, the results are conclusive of nothing.

Quo warranto. Seriously? We have a public statement signed by 13 of 14 Justices. This cringe worthy development leaves any such creative options such as quo warranto in the realm of fantasy. This is the folly when you fail to keep sentiments in check. How now can they still claim to be an impartial Court to decide on the quo warranto proceeding? 

Also, Barnett vs Obama (quo warranto vs a sitting President) in the US and, locally, Cuenco v Fernan (disbarment of a sitting Justice), are authority for the proposition that you can’t circumvent the Congressional impeachment power. There is a clear commitment on the part of the Constitution’s framers to leave this power to remove to a coordinate branch. So there it should be left. 

 Et tu, …? One of the most intriguing incidents of this episode is the indefinite leave which the Court “suggested” the Chief Justice take. Her spokespersons have a point when they say that there may be Constitutional implications on the sole power to remove lodged in Congress. We can think also of inconsistency with Civil Service rules and regulations which, under ordinary circumstances, may even warrant a finding of constructive dismissal. But these considerations are moot, really, because she had really previously scheduled a wellness leave.

As we await the start of the Senate trial and anticipate the Chief Justice’s unfolding defense, we should reflect on our understanding of these afflictions of the hour. To fail to understand is to contribute to the diminution of our institutions already under attack.

IMPEACHMENT LEILA DE LIMA MARIA LOURDES SERENO SUPREME COURT
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