Wednesday, 18 April 2018 14:57

The Supreme Court a co-equal branch?

IN the Philippines, scandals, tsismis and fake news (STF for short) are part of the daily news diet. I have no idea how many of our citizens care to read the papers or how many are active in social media. For the majority, word of mouth is an effective carrier of STF, and travel faster and farther. There is that symbiotic relationship between word of mouth and media. Sourced from either platform, these raw morsels of STF are then either distorted, embellished and presented to the public as truth. In social media, internet trolls on both sides of the argument or advocacies are then engaged in a frenzy of spin, effectively taking over the political conversation.

More often than not, this job is assigned to favored stooges with government sinecures who have large social media following; talking heads and lawyers with the leash tightly held by Malacañang. They then proffer these fables to the public in double-speak.

Take the example of the quo warranto petition against beleaguered Chief Justice (on leave) Maria Lourdes Sereno brought by Solicitor General Jose Calida. Ordinary Filipinos take this simply as “lawyer’s mumbo-jumbo.” According to Calida’s suit, Sereno’s appointment as Chief Justice is not valid “ab initio” (from the very beginning) and “…requires her to show by what authority she exercises her assumption to public office.”

Sereno opined: “If they succeed [in removing]an impeachable officer nearly six years after her appointment, then every sitting justice will no longer be independent.” (PDI, April 12, 2018)

True enough! Why only now, after six years? The ordinary Filipino would rather not participate in this “moro-moro” and with a mind of his own prefer a narrative which is simple, linear and honest.

President Duterte wants her ousted. She has provoked the anger of the President. Many believe this started when she clashed with the Deegong early in his administration in August 2016. Du30 made the mistake of naming judges allegedly involved in illegal drugs, some of whom had long been retired and one long dead. DU30 backed down from a confrontation with the feisty lady who insisted on her prerogatives and the independence of the judiciary. But she had drawn first blood. The President’s disdain for the chief justice could have started at this point.

Rubbing salt on the wound, she has consistently voted against Duterte’s policies that have been elevated to the high court: a hero’s burial for the dictator Marcos, and the declaration of martial law in Mindanao to contain the IS rebellion, among others.

And lately, Sereno lashed out at DU30’s perceived drift towards authoritarianism. “The current state of the nation is one where perceived enemies of the dominant order are considered fair game for harassment, intimidation and persecution, where shortcuts are preferred over adherence to constitutional guarantees of human rights, including the denial of due process,” Sereno said.

“Coarseness, including the denigration of women, rather than civility, mark the language of the podium,” she added. (Nikkei Asian Review, March 8, 2018)

This could be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Who is this

Lourdes Sereno who has the balls to stand up to the macho president?

Sereno had been chief justice for five years prior to DU30’s ascendancy. She took her position seriously as head of the judiciary, co-equal to the executive and legislative branches of government. She was installed as chief justice after the impeachment of CJ Corona and after having been scrutinized and recommended by the Judicial and Bar Council.

Corona himself earned the ire of the Aquinos on some high court decisions against the Aquino/Cojuangco interests. PNoy used his office to allegedly bribe the senators with DAP money to impeach Corona.

PNoy’s inexperienced niña bonita , appointed at a very young age (57 in 2012), will be sitting as CJ for the next several years (70 years old in 2030) outliving those in the current bench. This did not sit well with the other justices, all senior to her, drooling over the CJ post.

A quo warranto petition was filed by the Solicitor General. Knowing how the DU30 can be intimidating to his cabinet, no way will Calida act without the Deegong’s imprimatur. DU30’s assertions that he did not have a hand in this is simply not plausible.

Sereno took the bait, asking the Deegong publicly to show his hand. This allowed DU30 to accommodate her challenge, thus his declaration: “I am putting you on notice that I’m now your enemy and you have to be out of the Supreme Court.” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 10, 2018)

There is no mumbo-jumbo in the PRRD’s language. Sereno, the head of another co-equal branch, became an enemy once she stepped on the almighty’s toes and he wants her head.

What next? Sereno could be booted out by her peers on this quo warranto petition, but this would look funny. She has been a member of the bench for a good part of a decade. Would these good justices now “require her to show by what authority she exercises her assumption to public office”?

The success of this quo warranto petition will have a lasting effect. A precedent having been established, any SolGen in the future will have the ability to bring quo warranto petitions against any of them. This in fact is a hanging sword of Damocles of their own making.

The issues of Sereno’s alleged corruption, profligate lifestyle and imperial tendencies will not be taken up in this quo warranto petition. These are issues rightly lodged in an impeachment proceeding against impeachable officials.

If Chief Justice Sereno’s peers will shamelessly abide by the dictates of their personal agenda, they will boot her out on this quo warranto petition. But their reputation will be left in tatters as they shall have been reduced to mere lap dogs of the executive branch.

Impeach her, if you must! But go through the proper constitutional process.

Published in LML Polettiques
Tuesday, 17 April 2018 15:00

Call his bluff

At one point during the hearings by the House of Representatives’ committee on justice on the impeachment case against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Mindoro Oriental Rep. and committee chair Reynaldo Umali said a mouthful against Larry Gadon, the lawyer who had filed the complaint.

The committee had found that Gadon’s allegation of acts of favoritism and manipulation by Sereno were not supported by affidavits from the supposed resource persons he had mentioned in his complaint.

When asked if he had spoken directly with these people and if they could substantiate his claims, Gadon said they had not expressed willingness to cooperate but that they knew things, which was why he was suggesting that the committee invite them to testify: “Wala po silang pinarating sa akin na willing to cooperate pero meron po silang alam, kaya nga po sina-suggest ko po sa justice committee na sila ay imbitahin…”

Gadon’s allegations were, it thus appeared, mere hearsay, and he wanted the House to step in to do the job of buttressing his case against Sereno.

“Please do your homework,” a seemingly indignant Umali told him in response, adding that since he was the accuser, he should “do [his] job” and not, as some committee members had been complaining, make them do the investigation for him: “Ikaw kasi nag-aakusa kung kaya’t hinihingi nung pagkakataon na gawin mo naman yung trabaho mo. Yun yung inaangal ng kasamahan namin dito, na ginagawa mo kaming imbestigador mo, eh. Hindi kami yun.”

It was a moment of clarity in the proceedings, but one gone too soon.

As things stand now, it could have been a watershed point—the moment when sober-minded members of the House committee on justice came to their senses, saw through the lies and sham of Gadon’s complaint, and, rising beyond partisan interests, junked the impeachment complaint, thus sparing the republic the constitutional crisis now about to unfold with the administration’s full-on assault on the Chief Justice and an independent judiciary.

But then again, perhaps it was no more than a piece of theater — Umali et al. feigning anger at Gadon for the benefit of the cameras, but high-fiving him in private despite his comically flawed complaint. Because, incredibly, the hearings plodded on, and while more of Gadon’s deceits and misrepresentations came to light, in the end the House committee still vindicated him by voting to recommend Sereno’s impeachment.

Gadon’s capacity to survive one demonstrable act of public lying after another — even being rewarded by the House for his blatant untruths under oath in such a grave proceeding as attempting to unseat a chief magistrate — appears to be inexhaustible.

His extreme views on a number of national issues — on television, he advocated the mass killing of Muslims as a solution to the Mindanao strife; he also said the thousands of extrajudicial killings in the course of the government’s war on drugs were still not enough — should have long ago marked him out for the crackpot personality that he is, and disqualified him from being taken seriously.

Instead, shadowy forces have seemingly turned this lawyer’s profound aversion to norms of basic decent behavior into his chief qualification as the alpha attack dog in the game plan to cow the judiciary.

In the face of criticism of his unsubstantiated accusations and disreputable methods, Gadon can be counted on to try to outshout, curse, flail, and lash at his critics.

His recent reprehensible behavior in Baguio before a group of pro-Sereno protesters was vintage Gadon: flashing the dirty finger, yelling profanities, and shrieking “bobo” (dumb) at anyone but himself.

What is taking the Integrated Bar of the Philippines so long to disbar this outrageous excuse for a lawyer?

Gadon has declared that he didn’t care about being disbarred, claiming that he would still be able to eat lavishly even if he lost the right to practice law. His peers should quickly call his bluff.

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Published in News