MARCH is the month we celebrate women, and it is somewhat odd that we start this month with what can be misconstrued by feminists as another misogynistic attack on women. But this is not about gender. It is about the law and science. The gender of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) Chief Persida Acosta is not the issue here.
Feminists complain about how men tend to diminish women by highlighting their predisposition to become emotional, irrational and hysterical. But it is a disservice to women to deploy the gender card and justify the undermining of law and science just because those who are being taken to task for violating their tenets happen to be women. After all, there are more women who are working to uphold the legal and scientific.
This is not about Sereno and Acosta being women. This is about Sereno whose acts have undermined people’s trust in the equality of the law, and Acosta whose acts have eroded people’s trust in the rationality of science.
Maria Lourdes Sereno failed the psychological test for candidates for the high court and was assessed to have an average IQ. Many are already asking how she became the Chief Justice of the highest court of the land.
But these are transgressions that are not even strictly legal in nature, for indeed there is no law that bars people with character flaws and average IQs to become public servants. It is even safe to say that if such law does exist, it may even lead to a lot of vacancies in the government bureaucracy.
What is actually contentious is Sereno’s appointment to the judiciary, and later as its chief, despite the fact that she has violated the law not only once but twice.
She violated the law by not filing statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) for at least 15 years while she was still working at the University of the Philippines (UP). And according to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), she also violated our tax laws. She did not pay the correct amount of taxes she owed the government when she lawyered for the Piatco case. It was revealed in the last hearing of the House justice committee that she owes the government at least P2 million in unpaid taxes.
Ordinary citizens have been punished for committing the same offenses. No less than the Supreme Court which Sereno now leads has decided on cases related to the erroneous or non-filing of SALNs, and to tax evasion.
Sereno’s continuing presence as Chief Justice is a clear reminder to people that some are luckier than others because they can get away with violating the law.
Sereno’s excuse is that she was given clearance by UP when she resigned despite her deficiency in repeatedly failing to file her SALN. She also now blames the BIR for not reminding her of her tax deficiencies. This is coming from a person who heads a body that has affirmed in jurisprudence the adage that ignorance of the law is not an excuse. As for blaming UP, the court would have probably ruled that it is not for UP to clear her of any legal responsibility over an act which she committed against the Filipino people, for it amounted to a crime that is punishable with fines and imprisonment. And non-filing of SALN and tax evasion, when committed by public officials, would both merit perpetual disqualification from holding public office.
Her lawyers argue that her failure to file her SALN and to pay the correct amount of taxes are not impeachable offenses, considering that these happened when she was not yet a member of the judiciary. They make light of the fact that she is technically a lawbreaker. In other countries, this could have easily triggered a resignation. Except for Justice Caguioa who was on leave, all the 13 other justices unanimously decided that she should take an indefinite leave. Sereno vowed that she would not resign, even if it means undermining the very rule of law that her office represents. Her tenacity is simply appalling and shameful, to say the least.
Persida Acosta is as tenacious in her crusade against Dengvaxia. The main difference is that she appears dedicated to her commitment to lawyer for the children who died allegedly from complications after being vaccinated. Acosta has not violated any law. One can even admire her steadfast insistence in representing the rights of her clients, even if it means contravening the principle of cooperation between and among government agencies when she refuses to share her findings and the tissue samples from the exhumed bodies of the victims to the experts from the UP-PGH.
Acosta’s war is not against the rule of law, but against science. She has turned her commitment to her clients into a platform for her to become a one-woman fury who now torments not just the health bureaucrats whom she accuses of being responsible for the Dengvaxia debacle. She is waging war on the entire health bureaucracy and the medical sciences which she now accuses as being part of the cover-up. Using alleged conflict of interest as a cover, and armed with dramatic flair, she mouths medical jargon like a natural, demeaning hard-earned expertise, and dismissing opposing scientific claims with her dramatics. She totally abandons the logic and detached objectivity of her profession, and assaults the rationality of science by her performances which can only win her accolades from a public crying for blood, and the trust and loyalty of parents whose children have died and whose only consolation is the possible financial indemnity that PAO has dangled with the civil case that Acosta has filed against Sanofi-Pasteur.
But the law requires that Acosta present incontrovertible proof of causality between Dengvaxia and the deaths for her to win the case. When asked during the House hearing if she is certain, she admitted that she was not. The thing is, to the eyes of an angry public and the dead children’s parents who see her as an avenging angel of justice, it doesn’t matter if she isn’t.
Sereno’s refusal to resign undermines the rule of law. Acosta’s theatrics undermines science. And eventually, both will have serious consequences.