Vital lessons learned from the Sereno debacle
WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus Jimenez (The Freeman) - June 25, 2018 - 12:00am

Every Filipino lawyer dreams of ascending into the sacred halls of the Supreme Court, even as a mere Associate Justice, and not necessarily the Chief Justice. A young and inexperienced law professor from UP, Maria Lourdes Sereno, was given too much blessings too soon by a president who was showing one and all that he could appoint anyone that he wanted, provided he or she has the bare minimum qualifications.

President Benigno S. Aquino III plucked from the classroom a young academician who never had a day of experience even as a clerk of court, a court interpreter, much less a judge of even the smallest municipal circuit court. Well, from the very start was that it was a disaster waiting for time to explode. And exploded it did. Sereno’s fate disappeared like a bubble too fast, even faster than the speed by which she zoomed into the pinnacle of career success.

After all had been said and done, it is time to move on and search for the most fitting to the position as the chief magistrate of the land. But before we can move on, and start a new chapter in our Philippine judiciary history, it would be very useful for all of us Filipinos to reflect seriously on the lessons we should have learned from the Sereno career disaster.

First lesson: if you feel that you are qualified but you do not have the experience and the temperament of a jurist, you need to be humble and friendly. The inexperienced appointee should have the humility to seek the wise counsel of the seniors in the court. That appointee should not isolate herself but must exert extra effort to earn the respect of the peers. If she is the Chief Justice, she must be consultative, and must listen to the more experienced members of the Court. After all, the High Tribunal is a collegial body. The problem with Sereno was that she was too proud and arrogant in the use of her powers and she never lifted a finger to build strong alliances.

As a lady, it is noteworthy that Sereno was not able to gain the respect, even grudging respect of a more senior lady justice, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro. She also caused a former colleague in the UP School of Law, Justice Francis Jardeleza, to be too angry at her and even bitter. Sereno objected to the nomination of Jardeleza on the vague grounds of questions about integrity, without submitting evidence to support her charges. Jardeleza got back at her and had very strong words against her in his separate concurring opinion.

And so, the second lesson: when you are already lucky and received the rare blessings to occupy the fifth highest office (next to the President, Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House) she should have the grace to avoid conflicts with her peers.

The third lesson: when the appointee already violated lesson number one and lesson number two, she must be very sure that she has neither violation of any law nor deficiency in the requirements for appointment.

I strongly believe that failure to file a SALN is not really a very, very serious offense. It could be a mere lapse of memory or error in judgment. Had Sereno built a strong relationship with her peers, such lapse could have easily been forgotten or ignored. But she behaved as if she can stay forever and as if she was indispensable and impregnable.

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