• Corona the Invisible



    A GOOD newspaper, the writer Arthur Miller memorably said, is a nation talking to itself. But when there’s really nothing to talk about, you wonder if it wouldn’t really be better for even a newspaper to just shut up.

    And so, I wonder why the Philippine Daily Inquirer would “banner” the dissent of just one associate justice to the directive of the rest of the high court for Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to respond in 10 days to the quo warranto petition that seeks to remove her from office. Particularly because the lone dissenter, Associate Justice Mario Victor Leonen, did not even deign to explain why he wanted the order quashed—or, indeed, why he is doing everything in his power to get the entire petition thrown out summarily.

    But these are strange days in the highly polarizing debate concerning Sereno. I guess if Leonen’s unexplained position against removing the chief justice on no stated basis can merit such lavish (if unwarranted) coverage, then it’s perfectly all right to discuss Sereno’s travails without once mentioning the fate that befell her immediate predecessor, Renato Corona.

    One law school dean who moonlights as a legal expert for a television network did just that recently, by the way. Employing all the dim wattage of his benighted legal mind, the dean wrote an entire essay on Sereno without once mentioning Corona – as if the problems of the current chief magistrate were some kind of sui generis heavenly phenomenon.

    This is my biggest objection to the arguments presented by the defenders of Sereno: they never point out that Corona, the magistrate she replaced a scant six years ago, suffered almost the exact same treatment at the hands of that most vengeful of presidents, Noynoy Aquino.

    Indeed, while the ghost of Corona is all over Sereno’s case, nobody can even mention his name. If you listen to the small but incredibly media-savvy minority that has decided to “stand by CJ,” you will never hear anything about Sereno’s failure to file the required statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) for all but three years since she first started teaching the law at UP Diliman ages ago.

    And yes, the Senate impeachment court that convicted Corona used his supposed improperly filed (but filed, nonetheless) SALNs to remove him from office. That Senate, which is still populated by some of the same Aquino henchmen that are in the chamber today, showed just how badly it wanted Corona out when it presented a dismissed court worker who did not declare income from a couple of market stalls she operated as Exhibit A against him.

    What a bunch of corrupted hypocrites.

    * * *

    The current crop of senators, especially those identified with the previous administration, also need to curb their enthusiasm when it comes to Sereno’s case. They can take their cue from the House, which seems perfectly happy to let the Supreme Court decide on Solicitor General Jose Calida’s quo warranto petition, because the congressmen know that they don’t need to make a big fuss about wielding the sole power to remove the chief justice through impeachment.

    The senators aligned with Aquino simply cannot abide Calida’s petition because giving it due course would supposedly encroach on their power to convene as an impeachment court that should decide her fate. I think what they’re really scared of is that they won’t get to absolve Sereno if she is removed by the court itself because her appointment was void from the beginning, since she did not meet the criteria set.

    On the other hand, I think there are also senators who are hoping that certain people want Sereno out so badly that they will offer Noynoy-like incentives to the Senate to get it done. And if the high court rules on the quo warranto petition and Sereno never sees an impeachment court, of what use will the Senate be in this whole sordid affair?

    The insistence of some senators that only they can decide what happens to Sereno is ultimately what made me decide that removing her by questioning her fitness in the first place is the better way. If Calida’s method succeeds in excluding the Senate from the entire process, perhaps it will convince more people that we don’t really need to pay 24 people hundreds of millions of pesos each every year to do a job that others need no additional compensation for.

    As for the defenders of Sereno outside the Senate, they can’t be forced to see what they’ve decided can’t be seen, like the elephant in the room that is Renato Corona. They’ll just move on to the next thing that sounds in the least like something the people and President Rodrigo Duterte want, and go against that.


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