CHIEF Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno does not have the intellectual heft of Elena Kagan and the amazing life story of Sonia Sotomayor. Or the tenacity of Ruth Baden Ginsburg in deciding for the kind of law that is just, human and fair. But there is one quality she shares with these three woman justices – a predisposition to always be on guard for executive overreach. Or legislative tantrums. Or colleagues in the judicial system who see the law as a negotiable instrument.
That alone makes her an ideal CJ in this particular juncture of Philippine judicial history.
Of course, that is just in adherence to a bedrock provision of the Constitution – that the three main branches of government are co-equal and not one should exercise too much power. The Constitution is very clear on the three branches, the trinity from which all important public decisions come from.
The Constitution does not allow one branch to dominate, with, of course, a little leeway for the Executive. Because the abuse of power by any one branch is already a breach, an assault, on the democratic process. A democracy as unstable as ours is dearly threatened by the abuse of power by any one branch. It shakes the democracy ecosystem that may not be stable enough to absorb epic shocks, or any shock at all.
CJ Sereno is currently facing an impeachment case filed by the House of Representatives. There is a laundry list of alleged grounds for impeachment and the House leadership is confident of getting an “impeach vote”. Should the leadership get one, the action will shift to the Senate, which would render the final verdict on the impeachment.
Right now, it is hard to gauge the sentiment of the senators and an “impeach“ verdict is not that guaranteed despite the loyalty of majority of the senators to Mr. Duterte. The President appears to be not involved but nothing would please him more than a verdict of “impeach”.
The sense of the House, if you dig deeper into the whys and wherefores of the impeachment complaint, is that CJ Sereno is independent. That she takes a dim view of many of the executive promulgations of Mr. Duterte. That she cannot be expected to say “amen “to issues like the Marcos burial at a ground for heroes. She renders her decisions with the view that the law does not have any color and biases and, definitely it is not biased for a President, no matter how popular.
Within the DU30 political sphere, there is a general hostility to this kind of mindset and that was the general motivation behind the move to impeach.
Will the impeachment of CJ Sereno be of any good—even just a parcel of good—for the country and the body politic?
The alternative, which is really a plausible scenario after an impeachment, makes many scream in terror: the appointment of a parasol-wielding chief justice as the CJ of our realm. Men of a certain age want to expunge a dreadful event in our country that involved a chief justice and a parasol. It needs retelling.
One sunny day and at a public event, Mrs. Imelda Marcos, the then First Lady, was exposed to the sun. Such occasions had always been a display of fealty – who can pop in the umbrella that would shield Mrs. Marcos from the sun on the quick? It turned out that a bespectacled man, gentle in manner, did it first, beating out the brawny guards and coiffed, bejeweled women always fawning over Mrs. Marcos .
That man of gentle manner happened to be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Enrique Fernando. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court holding the umbrella that shielded Mrs. Marcos from the sun. Not the guards, not the members of the security detail, not the alalay of Mrs. Marcos who would gladly jump from the high floors of buildings just to please her, not the political posse but the CJ himself. That was an opti that could only exist in a full-blown banana republic.
An inventory of the events about fealty and submission during the Marcos years will probably rank the optic of the parasol-wielding CJ among the top three. Based on this fear that we may repeat the folly of mendacity, the impeachment hearing should be frozen on its tracks.
The best case against the impeachment case against the CJ and the Ombudsman was laid out by a business group, which clearly wants Mr. Duterte to succeed big-time for the simple reason that they would be the big winners in any economic surge under the president. I seldom agree with the Makati Business Club all the “clubs” I have joined were peasant groups and journalist guilds) but on this one, I can repeat the MBC’s arguments.
“We believe that the impeachment process engraved in the Constitution must not be invoked arbitrarily to persecute and silence individuals with opposing views, nor to undermine independent institutions, the bulwark of our nation’s democrac .
The impeachment cases must be substantiated by strong evidence of culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, corruption and other high crimes.
We also wish to express serious concern over the implications of impeachment cases on our nation’s development.
We worry that these would divert the attention of Congress away from addressing the heavy legislative agenda which, in turn, will have an unfavorable impact on the attainment of the government’s ten-point socio-economic agenda.“
This was the clincher. The cases should not be supported by mere accusations and anecdotes.
Impeachment based on anecdotes . That maybe the case against CJ Sereno.