• The Land Cruiser impeachment saga revs on


    Marlen V. Ronquillo

    In other Supreme Courts across the democratic world, deep divisions on how to interpret the law of the land are said to have little impact on the personal relationships between and among the sitting magistrates. The War of Words does not translate into loss of civility. The US Supreme Court is Exhibit A on how inconsequential and separate clashes of thoughts on the law are from social relationships.

    The families of the late Antonin Scalia, the unapologetic constructionist and the face of legal conservatism in the US, and that of Ruth Baden Ginsburg, the face of law as a progressive force for change, often went to the opera together and were socially close. Clashing legal views were left at the marbled offices and were not allowed to intrude into their personal relationships. Residing at both ends of the legal and political spectrum, Scalia and Ginsburg remained friends.

    The stinging rebukes in the dissenting opinions, mostly harsh and unforgiving, were considered as priceless documents of intellectual and legal combats, not to be taken personally and to be forgotten when the robes are off.

    Looking at the impeachment charges against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, we can see the opposite. From the complaint, the specific charges inferred that CJ Sereno is high-handed in the discharge of her administrative and other duties, averse to collegiality and is not well-liked within the High Court itself.

    She reportedly exploits and uses the full powers of the CJ to the hilt, the feelings and sensibilities of the other justices be damned. Does she have a low view of some of her colleagues in the High Court? Sure, and the complaint of Mr. Gadon obliquely stated that.

    She is not Ms. Collegiality and her administrative actions, based on the Gadon complaint, adequately demonstrated that personal predisposition.

    The problem of Mr. Gadon is this: These accusations do not constitute high crimes and treason and culpable violation of the Philippine Constitution. You cannot impeach a sitting Chief Justice based on her lack of collegial grace. Or, to use a harsher benchmark, you cannot impeach a CJ based on her perceived high-handedness and arrogance.

    Even the parts that are supposed to push the common man to pay attention to the complaint, the salacious ones that touched on money and waste of public funds and abuse of power, the specifics fell short. Samples: A P5 million Land Cruiser service vehicle for the CJ, the booking of a presidential villa in Boracay for P200,000 a night and her business class travels.

    I have not seen the LC200 in the Gadon complaint but I am 100 percent sure that what the CJ acquired was the basic LC200 variant that is absent from the massive garage of your dimwit congressman. The Land Cruiser acquired by the CJ for the High Court was the basic model, the entry-level variant, which is usually acquired via a local leadership. One “indents” from a local dealership to buy that model, which is roughly P4.5 million excluding the mandatory insurance for brand new vehicles. So the amount of P5 million, including the insurance, is about right.

    But every car guy knows this. All Land Cruisers were not created equal and congressmen often prefer the top-of-the-line, “all –options” model. These Land Cruisers are acquired by a group of elite dealers operating outside of the usual Toyota dealerships and they have a name: Dubai models.

    Your run-of-the-mill congressman has issues with the LC acquired by the High Court. I can name a few. The single diesel tank holds just 70 liters whereas the “ Dubai model “ has two large diesel tanks. The Dubai version is more stable on rough road and has more amenities. And the basic Dubai model, which is not even equipped with automatically-adjusting seats, is priced over P1 million higher than the local LC version, which matters much to status-conscious congressmen. Mr. Congressman does not want the basic LC model that is short on “borloloys.”

    The full-options Dubai version that congressmen prefer costs around P8 million. I think they call that the “Platinum” model.

    Travelling coach is an option for a CJ on a private trip. After all, the CJ is spending his or her own money. But do Filipinos really want to see their CJ fighting it out at the couch class when representing the Philippines? What if he or she wants to edit a paper or a speech on a Philippine legal position with snoring all around and with a grumpy foreigner talking about nasty things from the back seat? We are all for conserving precious government funds but we would not mind a business class booking for our travelling CJ.

    That she booked a P200,000 -a-night presidential villa at the Boracay with all her staff in there for a night, from all known criteria, does not constitute treason or high crimes. Can Congress impeach her, really, really impeach her based on that one?

    The House of Representatives is impeaching CJ Sereno because it can, not because she committed an impeachable offense. The HOR can even rush the judgment and send it to the Senate tomorrow for the final verdict.

    But it is still assessing whether the mood of the Senate is one of pliability, which would bolster the HOR’s case. Or, one of sound judgment, which would doom Mr. Gadon’s wet dreams.


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