The Supreme Court vs Maria Lourdes Sereno

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ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

SUPPORTERS of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno make it appear that an attack on her is an attack on the entire Supreme Court, or even the entire judiciary.

They insist that the motives of the Associate Justices who testified about their personal knowledge of the alleged misdeeds of the Chief Justice have seriously undermined the collegiality and have permanently damaged the integrity of the Supreme Court.

They argue that what these justices have raised are administrative issues that should have been internally addressed within the court, and where their internal rules should have been invoked.

A close perusal of the internal rules of the Supreme Court, however, does not specify the mechanism for removing a sitting Chief Justice for serious offenses. In fact, disciplining the Chief Justice is totally non-existent in the entire history of the judiciary. The rules of collegiality of a body that subsists on written memoranda, and less on open verbal warfare, leads to a culture where the power of disapprobation is preferably manifested not in openly censuring the erring justice’s behavior, but in reversing his or her opinions.


And the Chief Justice stands accused, as attested by members of the court, of committing serious offenses.

Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro spoke of Sereno as having committed misrepresentation in two instances. She said Sereno misrepresented her on the issuance of a TRO on an election case, where De Castro was erroneously cited as the originator of the recommendation. The Chief Justice also misrepresented the en banc, and undermined the office of Court Administrator Midas Marquez, when she unilaterally created the Judicial Decentralized Office in Region 7 without proper approval by the court.

Associate Justice Noel Tijam revealed Sereno as a Chief Justice who acquired a case in violation of the internal rules of the Court. She became member-in-charge upon the request of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre concerning the transfer of the venue of the Maute case outside of Mindanao without the benefit of a raffle. Instead of discussing the matter with the en banc, she opted to discuss it over lunch.

Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza painted Sereno as a Chief Justice who abused her position at the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), and seriously undermined his constitutional right to due process. Sereno acted as accuser, judge and executioner when she did not inhibit from the JBC proceedings after opposing Justice Jardeleza’s appointment on an issue of integrity, and then forced the imposition of a rule which required unanimity. This abuse of power was echoed by retired Associate Justice Arturo Brion, who was polite enough not to call the act malicious on its face, but practically laid the predicate for anyone to conclude that such move was pregnant with malice.

In addition, Justice Jardeleza further presented Sereno as unethical, even to a point that her act amounted to treason, when she used against him confidential information about an issue that was being litigated in an international venue, and for which Sereno and the court had no business in interfering, and to which she should not have access to, more so used it adversely against him.

Sereno’s supporters are accusing the justices of undermining the high court’s integrity, yet they turn a blind eye on the following.

A court with integrity does not allow any of its members to misrepresent any of the other members, or worse, the en banc. It also does not tolerate someone to blatantly violate its internal rules in unilaterally acquiring jurisdiction over a case without the benefit of a raffle, and for which the exceptions stipulated do not apply. It also respects the power of the en banc, and would never tolerate its power to be diminished by allowing an issue that has serious implications on national security and the safety of officers of the court to be decided over lunch.

A court of integrity does not tolerate any of its members, more so the Chief Justice, to be a party, or worse, to take the lead, in the wanton abuse of prerogative that led to the denial of a right to due process.

And a court of integrity should be the last institution to allow any citizen to commit acts amounting to treason.

The en banc has no precedent to rely on for removing a Chief Justice that has compiled in her curriculum vitae such a list of actionable offenses. And the Republic cannot stand helpless and be held hostage by the absence of such precedent, and the invoking of a culture of omerta, if not of collegial courtesy, in relation to the offenses of members of the court.

In a republican system of checks and balances, the power of government is limited by mechanisms the source of legitimacy and ultimate logic of which is the sovereign power vested to it by the people, and as defined in the Constitution. Any political science major would know that a Constitution is a limit to the power of government in order to protect citizens’ rights, and to serve their interests, in as much as citizens are always sovereign.

Elected officials have term limitations, and they can be voted out of office. Members of the constitutional bodies may not be elected, but they pass through the scrutiny of the representatives of the people through the confirmation proceedings, even as they can also be impeached by the same representatives of the people.

Members of the judiciary, while appointed by the President, are in fact vetted by an unelected body that limits the President’s exercise of his power to represent the sovereign Filipino people. It is only through the impeachment process that they can be held accountable for their acts.

Far from undermining the integrity of the court, the Associate Justices who have already appeared, and the others who will soon appear, at the House justice committee hearings, are in fact asserting and preserving the court’s integrity by taking part in a process that upholds the people’s sovereignty.

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