Why journalism matters, Sereno’s pychiatric rating

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YEN MAKABENTA

First word
WITH two actions as a journalist yesterday, Manila Times senior reporter Jomar Canlas vividly showed, remarkably and patiently, the indispensable and still irreplaceable service of newspaper journalism in the discussion of public issues of great import, and the exposure of high officials in the light.

I refer to these two developments, which occurred yesterday, one after the other:

First, I woke up yesterday morning to a headline story in the Manila Times (“2 psychiatrists who failed Sereno named,” ManilaTimes, November 27, 2017), which reported that Chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno flunked the psychiatric evaluation made by the two doctors, as a prerequisite for her being shortlisted for the post of chief magistrate by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC).

The report was another one of Mr. Canlas’ now familiar, incisive reportage on developments in the Supreme Court, and on the nation‘s justices. It was, as many readers have come to expect from his journalism, insightful and backed by fact-checking.


Second, later in the morning, Mr. Canlas appeared as a witness in the ongoing House justice committee hearing for “probable cause” on the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Sereno, at the Batasang Pambansa. He testified for nearly half a day on his news reports in the Times, which tended to support the allegations made in the impeachment complaint by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon. He weathered the interpellation by pro-Sereno legislators, who tried their utmost to punch holes in the impeachment complaint.

In this day and age when many people believe the Internet and digital media have replaced traditional or mainstream media, when many think that bloggers are the new clergy of journalism, when many holler “fake news” whenever they read something unfavorable about themselves—I believe it is necessary to call attention to the virtues of old-style investigative journalism.

Mainstream journals like the Justice of practice fact-checking and thorough editing before publishing stories as well as opinion pieces. They employ copy editors and sub-editors to subject reporters to grilling on their stories both to promote media accuracy and as a protection against libel.

Mr. Canlas is a product of this fine tradition. He has brought to contemporary times the discipline and craft of an earlier time. He has generated scoops on the judiciary like nobody practicing journalism today.

Psychiatrists flunk Sereno
In his report in the Times yesterday, Canlas named the two psychiatrists of the JBC whose report on Sereno revealed that the chief justice failed her psychological evaluation.

Dr. Dulce Lizza Sahagun-Reyes and Dr. Genuina C. Ranoy were hired by the JBC to conduct the test on Sereno after President Benigno Aquino 3rd appointed her chief justice in 2012.

Based on the results of the 11-page confidential psychiatric report by Reyes and Ranoy, Sereno got a rating of “4” from a scale of 1 to 5, with “5” being the lowest.

Sereno’s grade meant that while she projected a “happy mood,” she also exhibited “depressive markers.”

After the test results were revealed, Sereno who was chairman of the JBC, refused to renew the contracts of the two psychiatrists and terminated them in 2013, according to a well-placed source of The Manila Times in the Supreme Court.

In the report, Reyes was described as a fellow of the Philippine Psychiatric Association and with a diplomate of the Philippine Board of Psychiatry. She is also described as JBC consultant Psychiatrist.

Ranoy was also described as a fellow of the Philippine Psychiatric Association and JBC consultant psychiatrist.

The documents were prepared by Maria Suerte Caguingin and Bernaden de Leon-Jamon and noted by lawyer Richard Pascual, acting chief of office, Office of Recruitment, Selection and Nomination of the JBC.

The two psychiatrists had been in the JBC as regular psychiatrists long before Sereno became associate justice of the high court, according to the same source.

But the source said Sereno pushed for the ouster of the psychiatrists as the chief justice became angry every time the issue of psychiatric testing was raised in the JBC deliberations.

Sereno has refused to respond to questions on the results of her psychiatric tests, with lawyer Theodore Te, the high court spokesman defending her by saying that the results were “relative” in nature.

With her chief justice position on the line as the House of Representatives holds impeachment proceedings against her, Sereno said on national television that she did not have a copy of her psychiatric test results and those who were able to get one did so illegally and could be held liable for breach of confidentiality.

But then Supreme Court Justice Arturo Brion was given a personal copy of Sereno’s psychiatric test results upon his request from the JBC.

The Supreme Court en banc is expected to decide whether the results of Sereno’s psychiatric test results should be released, as lawyer Larry Gadon has requested.

The details of Sereno’s psychiatric test results were first published in an exclusive story in the Manila Times on August 24, 2012, the same day that Sereno was appointed Chief Justice. But the two psychologists who administered the test for the JBC were not named.

Sereno was interviewed on July 18, 2012, but despite her grade “4” rating, the JBC still voted for her and she was able to notch six votes from the council and made it to the shortlist.

The JBC source said that under the existing policy of the council, an applicant to any position in the judiciary who garnered a grade of “4” shall be considered “Not recommended.”

The psychological evaluation said of Sereno: “Dramatic and emotional, she appears energetic and all smiles and agreeable, but with religious preoccupation in almost all significant aspects of her life. She projects a happy mood but has depressive markers too. There is a strong tendency to make decisions based on current mood thus, outcome is highly subjective and self-righteous.”

On page 10 of the 11-page psychiatric report, it was reflected that Sereno had an IQ of “109,” which has been described as “average.”

Psychological rating system
In the tally sheet of the JBC in 2012 when candidates for the position of chief justice were screened, Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta and retired Supreme Court Justice Regino Hermosisima did not vote for Sereno.

Those who voted for Sereno despite the grade of 4 in the psychiatric test were Undersecretary Michael Musngi for the Executive Department; Sen. Francis Escudero and Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. for Congress; lawyer Jose Mejia for the academe; lawyer Milagros Fernan-Cayosa for the Integrated Bar of the Philippines; and retired Court of Appeals Justice Aurora Santiago-Lagman for the private sector.

In the same psychiatric test, Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, the fourth most senior magistrate of the high court, was the only nominee who notched a grade of 1.

The second highest passer was Associate Justice Antonio Carpio who got a grade of 2 in his psychiatric testing. The other nominees who were shortlisted by the JBC who got a grade of 3 then were Associate Justices Arturo Brion, Roberto Abad; former Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora; and Ateneo College of Law Dean Cesar Villanueva.

The first page of the psychiatric report “For 19 July 2012 Preliminary Meeting” of the JBC, states the 5-point numerical rating system is as follows:

“1. Defenses are predominantly adaptive and healthy. Clinically assessed as having a superior functioning in a wide range of activities. Life’s problems never seem to get out of hand, is sought by others because of many positive qualities.

2. Negative defenses are leveled out by the positive qualities, person has expectable reactions to psycho-social stressors. There may be temporary difficulty but is generally functioning well.

3. Negative defenses may predominate but still able to achieve acceptable level of functions in an unusually difficult circumstance, functioning may be compromised.

4. The negative defenses are predominantly present that may reflect in a clinical observation as difficulty in adaptive functions in several areas of the person’s life.

5. Presence of major impairments in many or almost all areas of function. Presence of a diagnosable psychiatric disorder.

From Corona to Sereno
In weighing the impeachment complaint before finally deciding on the fate of CJ Sereno, I urge our legislators to study three dates:

May29,2012—On this day, the Senate impeachment court voted 20-3 to remove former CJ Corona from office.

July 18,2012—On this day, just six weeks after Corona’s conviction, the Judicial and bar Council submitted its shortlist of possible chief justices to President Aquino.

August 24, 2012—On this day, President Aquino appointed Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno as the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

The change from Corona to Sereno transpired like clockwork.

yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

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