MARK this well, because she may not have the opportunity to tell another lie. She could become the “former chief justice” anytime now. Soon, if she finally comes to her senses and decides to tender her resignation, or if the Supreme Court decides to remove her from office in its decision on the quo warranto petition of the solicitor general. Later, if she persists in demanding a trial of her frailties by the Senate.
“Judicial independence” is the final lie or misjudgment of her erratic magistracy.
“Judicial independence” is the final lie or misjudgment of her erratic magistracy. Magistracy is the stately word in the English language that denotes the office or authority of a judge or administrator of law.
Because Sereno has made “judicial independence” the cornerstone of her defense against the impeachment charges against her and the multiple calls for her resignation, and recites it at every opportunity, I think judicial independence will become Sereno’s last farewell, like Dr. Jose Rizal’s “Mi ultimo adios.” (My last farewell).
Four lies in Sereno’s magistracy
CJ Sereno’s magistracy has been layered by multiple deceptions, each one calculated to achieve a particular objective.
The first lie was the deception in August 2010, which purported to show that lawyer Maria Lourdes Sereno was qualified to be nominated and then appointed by President Benigno Aquino 3rd as his first appointee to the high court and as the youngest associate justice of the Supreme Court. She had not spent a single day of service as a judge in the Philippine bench, of which 15 years of experience is one of the enumerated constitutional qualifications for a member of the Supreme Court. She also did not submit the statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) for 10 years required by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC). Despite the missing requirements, the JBC inserted her name in its short list, and Aquino appointed her in August 2010.
The second lie was Sereno’s appointment on August 24,2012 by president Benigno Aquino 3rd as the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to replace former Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was convicted in a corrupted Senate impeachment trial. For this appointment, Sereno again failed to submit the required SALNS for her nomination and appointment. But the JBC inexplicably included her in its short list of nominees for chief justice submitted to President Aquino.
There is a confirmed story that the JBC did not include Sereno’s name at first in its short list, and Aquino expressed dissatisfaction with it. After some haggling between Malacañang and the JBC. the list was revised. Sereno got into the picture, and then voila, Aquino appointed Sereno as the new Chief Justice.
The third lie was Sereno’s actions as chief justice to influence the court’s decisions on Hacienda Luisita, particularly on the subject of compensation for the land. She argued for raising the government’s compensation for the estate that was subject to agrarian reform. As for other services to Aquino in the high court and in the shaping of court decisions during his presidency, this can wait for another time.
For one whose magistracy began in loyal service to one president, CJ Sereno now anchors her case for staying as chief justice on the concept and doctrine of judicial impendence.
Simply stated, judicial independence is the concept that the judiciary should to be kept away from the two other branches of government—the legislative and the executive, as an independent branch of government.
Courts should not be subject to improper influence from the other branches of government, or from private or partisan interests. Judicial independence is vital and important to the idea of separation of powers.
Different countries deal with the idea of judicial independence through different means of judicial selection, or choosing judges. One way to promote judicial independence is by granting life tenure or long tenure for judges, which ideally frees them to decide cases and make rulings according to the rule of law and judicial discretion, even if those decisions are politically unpopular or opposed by powerful interests. This concept can be traced back to 18th century England.
In some countries like the Philippines, the ability of the judiciary to check the legislature is enhanced by the power of judicial review. The Supreme Court can declare laws passed by the legislature as unconstitutional. Similarly, the court can declare executive orders and actions of the president as unconstitutional.
Sereno seeks, first, to portray the efforts to remove her from office, whether by impeachment or quo warranto, as part of a conspiracy to weaken the high court; and second, to portray her continuance as chief justice as essential for the preservation of judicial independence.
She does not trust her fellow justices to have the wit or the grit to maintain their independence from Congress and the Executive once she departs.
Courting the opposition
Playing the opposition is a deceptive maneuver by Sereno, perhaps the most deceptive of all. She means on the one hand to curry public favor by appearing to be resisting or fighting the encroachment by the legislative and the executive on the judiciary.
She also seeks to court favor and exert some leadership in the ranks of the opposition by serving as a voice of opposition against President Duterte and his top leaders in Congress.
She wants to play the role of victim, a familiar tactic of the yellow crowd, which desperately seeks a way to regroup and recover its footing.
This strategy of opposition will be severely tested in the event of a Senate impeachment trial for Sereno. She can count on only a handful of senators who will boldly come out to publicly defend her.
Most will not risk their public standing on her checkered record and poor credentials as chief justice.
At the same time, many senators still labor under their well-documented corruption during the Renato Corona trial (Aquino bought them all, and it’s all recorded in one SC decision).
Unsure of her case
Finally, CJ Sereno and her lawyers are themselves uncertain that Sereno‘s case can hold up in a trial, especially under heavy questioning. The sight of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile joining the prosecution panel could rattle them.
Solicitor General Jose Calida contends that CJ Sereno is afraid of the quo warranto case because she fears the idea of her formidable fellow justices sitting in judgment of her. All that legal acumen is fearsome to stand up against.
If she really believes in judicial independence, why did she demand that some of the justices recuse themselves from her case?
And if she does not want politicians to meddle in the judiciary, why does she insist that politicians in the Senate should judge her instead?