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.

The Senate President crowed yesterday that the party he nominally coheads, PDP-Laban, has a “pleasant problem” — too many potential senatorial candidates. Koko Pimentel’s estimate is they have up to 20 possible choices for the 12-person slate for the 2019 senatorial race. But his list includes the five administration-affiliated senatorial incumbents up for reelection next year. This is a group that has made noises that, much as it prefers to remain in the administration camp, it is unhappy with the way PDP-Laban has been designating its local leaders and candidates, and therefore prefers to strike out on its own, perhaps in alliance with the other administration (regional) party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago, headed by the President’s daughter and current Davao City mayor, Sara Duterte.

Setting aside, then, the five-person “Force,” the administration-oriented but not PDP-friendly reelectionists (Nancy Binay, Sonny Angara, Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, and JV Ejercito), what Koko’s crowing over is a mixed bag. Some of them have been floated by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez (with whom Mayor Duterte clashed in recent months): six representatives (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who is in her last term in the House of Representatives; Albee Benitez, Karlo Nograles, Rey Umali, Geraldine Roman, and Zajid Mangudadatu), three Cabinet members (Bong Go, Harry Roque, and Francis Tolentino), and two other officials (Mocha Uson and Ronald dela Rosa), which still only adds up to 11 possible candidates (who are the missing three?).

Of all of these, the “Force” reelectionists are only fair-weather allies of the present dispensation; their setting themselves apart is about much more than the mess PDP-Laban made in, say, San Juan where support for the Zamoras makes it extremely unattractive for JV Ejercito to consider being in the same slate. Their cohesion is about thinking ahead: Creating the nucleus for the main coalition to beat in the 2022 presidential election. The contingent of congressmen and congresswomen who could become candidates for the Senate, however, seems more a means to kick the Speaker’s rivals upstairs (at least in the case of Benitez and Arroyo) and pad the candidates’ list with token but sacrificial candidates, a similar situation to the executive officials being mentioned as possible candidates (of the executive officials, only Go seems viable, but making him run would deprive the President of the man who actually runs the executive department, and would be a clear signal that the administration is shifting to a post-term protection attitude instead of the more ambitious system-change mode it’s been on, so far).

Vice President Leni Robredo has been more circumspect, saying she’s not sure the Liberal Party can even muster a full slate. The party chair, Kiko Pangilinan, denied that a list circulating online (incumbent Bam Aquino, former senators Mar Roxas, Jun Magsaysay, TG Guingona, current and former representatives Jose Christopher Belmonte, Kaka Bag-ao, Edcel Lagman, Raul Daza, Gary Alejano and Erin Tañada, former governor Eddie Panlilio and Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña) had any basis in fact.

What both lists have in common is they could be surveys-on-the-cheap, trial balloons to get the public pulse. Until the 17th Congress reconvenes briefly from May 14 to June 1 for the tail end of its second regular session (only to adjourn sine die until the third regular session begins on July 23), it has nothing much to do. Except, that is, for the barangay elections in May, after a last-ditch effort by the House to postpone them yet again to October failed.

Names can be floated but the real signal will come in July, when the President mounts the rostrum and calls for the big push for a new constitution—or not. Connected to this would be whether the Supreme Court disposes of its own chief, which would spare the Senate—and thus, free up the legislative calendar—to consider Charter change instead of an impeachment trial. In the meantime, what congressmen do seem abuzz over is an unrefusable invitation to the Palace tomorrow — to mark Arroyo’s birthday. An event possibly pregnant with meaning.
In politics there’s no such thing as being too big to fail. Ruling coalitions become ruling parties, at which point being bloated often results in a party split, as factions lose out in the jockeying and sense an opportunity to strike out — and strike back — by forming rival coalitions to contest the next election. In regional terms, the Visayas (Cebu in particular, with Pusyon Bisaya) and Mindanao (with the Mindanao Alliance) have their own tradition of regional parties standing up to Marcos’ KBL: even PDP-Laban traces its origins to that era. Regional barons don’t take well to being bossed around, and if a boss gets too big for his britches, a revolt is inevitable. This is why everyone seems to be expecting Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to fall, the beneficiary of his toppling being Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, but the cause being widely attributed to Davao Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio’s sharp-tongued confrontation with him.

The clash between the mayor of Davao and the representative from the first district of Davao del Norte has been framed as a battle royale between the Speaker’s machinery and everyone else, under the umbrella of the President’s daughter. The Speaker’s take-no-prisoners approach most famously took on the President’s former patron, Antonio Floirendo Jr., with the President weighing in on the Speaker’s side after Floirendo supposedly was too uppity in response to the President’s efforts to smooth things over. But if it was necessary to teach Floirendo a lesson, it seems the time has come to teach Alvarez one, too, not least because a Floirendo-led effort to defeat the Speaker in 2019 is widely expected to succeed. But it is bigger than that as the presence of Sen. JV Ejercito at the launching of Duterte-Carpio’s regional party demonstrated. The Estrada home turf of San Juan has been rocked by a confrontation between the Zamoras and Mayor Guia Gomez, yet PDP-Laban took in the Zamoras despite JV Ejercito’s support for the President. What sort of treatment is that? And so, for every ally denied the blessings of the ruling party, there now glitters the opportunity to be associated with Hugpong ng Pagbabago.

In the meantime, aside from publicly being humiliated by Duterte-Carpio, the Speaker came under attack within his own party from members unhappy with his recruitment methods and for supposedly giving the cold shoulder to party veterans. Creating the impression of a civil war within a party is a tried-and-tested method for taking down party bigwigs a peg or two, and what matters most here is the hands-off announcement from the Palace when it comes to party matters. Those with sensitive political antennae will take it as the absence of a ringing endorsement for the Speaker, at a time when he has been accused by no less than the President’s fiercely outspoken daughter for being disloyal and disruptive.

PDP-Laban and Hugpong ng Pagbabago trying to outdo each other in being more “Dutertista” than the other only increases the chances of keeping the overall ruling coalition intact, and tying all factions to the Palace’s apron strings. It’s also a pointed reminder to the Speaker, even if he survives, not to be too piggish in the company of piglets. It does not do well for a runt to act too convinced that he’s an undefeatable wild boar. While he leads a big chunk of last-term congressmen, he has been too pushy with his no-election-in-2019 agenda, leaving no room for those looking forward to replacing last-termers, and bruising the feelings of so many players — and the public, too, which otherwise might give the President’s Charter change scheme the benefit of the doubt if only it weren’t so obviously stacking the odds in favor of people like Alvarez. Now the Speaker’s scheme is running out of steam, just when the President’s collection of consultative commission mummies are showing signs of life.

Still, all the factions could reunite by the State of the Nation Address in July, where the President could make a pitch for a plebiscite on a new constitution by October — the deadline for filing candidacies for the 2019 midterms. It will be the
balancing act of a lifetime.