EARLY last month, Prez Duterte described Chief Justice Sereno as his “enemy, to be outed,” or words to that effect. That arguably sealed her fate, which began when she took exception to his naming and shaming judges without due process. Those concerned I perceive and liken to the four knights who had heard Henry II ask: “Will someone rid me of this boisterous priest?” They considered themselves told. And the fate of Archbishop Thomas Becket was sealed.
She lost 8 to 6 (I assume all the justices who voted were physically present, as is required elsewhere such as in Congress; absentee voting should not do as a last-minute debate, appeal or argument in the continuing cross-fertilization of ideas may carry the day).
From the moment Digong proclaimed her his “enemy,” what was predictable followed. What did not was the very close voting (Rep. Rey Umali had predicted, 11-3; bulaang propeta.) Unanimity was the factor that made it easy for the US Supreme Court to have its rulings accepted in controversial, emotionally charged cases. Examples range from Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 418 US 683 (1954) outlawing racial segregation, or US v. Nixon 418 US 683 (1974), ordering Nixon to surrender the Watergate tapes. All the way to denying Clinton’s plea for postponement of his impeachment trial. Clinton v. Jones, 520 US 681 (1997). Not a single dissent. And the nation moved on.
Caesar’s wife test
Eight to six was as close as it could be (Meilou showed more class in recusing herself than those perceived publicly to have an animus towards her. In my view, they should also have inhibited themselves, but chose not to, revolutionizing our jurisprudence on recusation, where mere perception ranked high, even if not well-grounded para wala na lang pong masabi)—the Caesar’s wife test of being above suspicion.
If quo warranto had come ahead of impeachment, maybe the justices concerned would not have gone to the House to broadcast their animosity, and the people and history would presume good faith. It took Rep. Vicente Veloso (former Court of Appeals Justice) to raise the use of quo warranto, per media reports.
As a policy matter, removing a peer should not be left to the unelected Supreme Court justices, with their conceivable personal biases and grievances. It is said that men think they are thinking when in fact they are merely rearranging their prejudices (William James). That is why the need for judicial restraint, to protect one from himself, so that the people, through their elected congressmen and senators, can decide the fate of impeachable officials; the voting would be far easier to sell than what a few unelected alone decide. Impeachment is political after all, not judicial.
A less restrictive alternative, far superior to QW, a road not earlier taken, leading as it would seem, to a precipice.
Great cases, bad law
When the Constitution speaks of removal through impeachment, it excludes other modes. Expressio unius est exclusio alterius. The Senate should assert its prerogative and duty, and not have watched idly while a loved one is being violated in the violet time in the vilest possible way.
But, indeed, great cases, like hard cases, make bad law (Holmes).
The 8-6 ruling might or should land on the wrong side of history like the unlamented Javellana v. Executive Secretary decision of March 31, 1973 on the scandalous 6-4 “ratification” of the 1973 Constitution in barangay assemblies. The attendees were asked “sino sa inyo ang may gusto ng siopao?” The raised hands were counted as “yes,” per the account of 1986 Constitutional Commission member Pepe Nolledo, a patriot of the first water.
So was his fellow Con-Con delegate Edong Angara, who left us last Sunday. Ed voted to convict a Chief Justice in 2012. How I wish the foolish story that he, Manong Johnny Ponce Enrile and 18 others had been bribed with pork would now stop.
Who will land on the right side of history here? Ed definitely will and what follows was what I said, in gist, at the eulogy the other day at the Senate.
“To all my golden friends gathered here this morning to bid goodbye to one we honor, today—and always will—in his final sentimental journey home, a home of which he was the patriarch, for many a year—good morning.
“These last few days I lost two, both from Quezon, the first being my eldest brother, Tony, Jr., born in 1937 in Mauban (birthplace of Fr. Horacio de la Costa and Ninez Cacho Olivares), and the other, Edong, born in Baler in 1934, my `spiritual brother,’ a term he used in emailing me on June 16, 2015.
“A kinder Kuya than quiet engineer Junior I could not have found and a better public servant and statesman, than soft-spoken Compañero Edong one cannot find easily, either.
“His biography, In the Grand Manner, was launched in late April, 2015. He was quoted at the time as having said that his life had been `far from perfect.’ Characteristically self-deprecating. But, it was a life well-lived indeed, as many say. (And the only perfect lawyer I know anyway was a fellow Bedan, Justice Gregorio Perfecto, Clase Superior, 1905. But for high school, “my first choice was San Beda,” Ed wrote in his bio, at page 10.)
“Last we met was last March 23, during the launch of the Fulbright Hall of Fame. The first was in the 1971-72 ConCon at the Manila Hotel, where I was my Pasig townsman Delegate Bobbit Sanchez’s go-fer. Ed had asked another townsman, Aveling Cruz, bar No. 1 at 20, and ACCRA co-founder, to set up lunch with Ed in that venue. Ed asked me ever so gently to consider co-founding ACCRA. But, by then I had founded the San Beda Free Legal Aid Clinic and was set to become what would later be known as a human rights lawyer, an animal unknown when I was in law schools, here and abroad. [In the June 16, 2015 email, he reminded me, "had you agreed to join us, you would have been a founding partner of ACCRALAW…You said you would study the offer and later you declined my invitation.’ The same way I declined a signed Supreme Court appointment in late January, 1987. My sanity continues to be questioned, jury still out.]
“Ed and I, both less than perfect in an uncertain world, had our differences then on martial law which lasted long, but where I was perhaps tactless and unkind he was ever so tactful and tolerant, like a forgiving Kuya.
“A turning point from where I sat was his Namfrel role in the 1985-1986 snap elections, a game for all the marbles, the whole enchilada. He, like Manang Letty Ramos-Shahani, distanced himself from the dictator when it was risky to do so. Electrifying. In times of moral crises, one cannot be neutral, per Dante. (BTW, my co-Rizal Hi alum Cora de la Paz Bernardo, was also active in Namfrel, and was also recognized last March 23 as a pioneer Fulbrighter.)
“Ed was among Prez Cory’s 1987 choices; more than impressed, she picked him as a Senate bet and he was decisively voted into office by an appreciative, grateful, discerning people.
“Long before his autobiography was launched, we had become fast friends, with a deep and abiding respect for each other’s, at times, differing views on what was best for the Motherland.
“I am reminded of what Wordsworth wrote, “What though the radiance which was once so bright, be now forever taken from [o[our]ght, though nothing can bring back the hour, of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower, we will grieve not, rather find, strength in what remains behind [a[and] years that bring a philosophic mind.”
“Ed, we thank you, we salute you as we find strength in what you leave behind.
“Goodbye and Godspeed— to your deeply deserved eternal reward.”
It was a joyous, if solemn, affair to celebrate the life and times of a great Filipino patriot. But the dignity was to me sort of marred only when a senator to my right and a senator to my left—who will remain mercifully unnamed—showed me their CPs disclosing that the Boston Celtics had just again beaten the Cleveland Cavaliers in the ongoing NBA playoffs. The Celts were my late wife’s fave, having spent two years in Boston College for her master’s in social work, on a full scholarship. Sen. Sonny Angara said in his response that Ed’s parents did not have to spend for his tuition and free public education was one many-splendored dream Ed had worked hard for. Now a reality.
Again, TY, Ed, for everything you have done, to give the Filipino a chance for a better life. For us, “the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream [f[for a better life]shall never die.”