BY YEN MAKABENTA ON DECEMBER 14, 2017
IN A rare moment of lucidity and sound judgment, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno declared that what she faces in the House impeachment hearings against her is “a perfect storm.”
“Perfect storm” aptly describes the virtual tsunami that our chief magistrate is confronting now. According to the leading English dictionaries, “perfect storm” describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically. The term is also used to describe an actual phenomenon that happens to occur in such a confluence, resulting in an event of unusual magnitude.
The confluence and magnitude of testimony and documents against Sereno at the hearing, when combined with her documented psychological shortcomings and utter lack of qualifications to sit in the high court, points to an indefensible position for Sereno. There is no escape but resignation.
Sereno got some relief from the storm when the House justice committee decided that the hearing last Monday (December 11) would be the last this year. The impeachment hearings will resume in January.
Storm will get even worse
Alas for Sereno, when the hearing resumes on January 18, the storm will get even worse and more problematic for her. More justices will testify against her, and this time it will also include a supposed Sereno ally, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio. The latter will testify to the veracity of yet another impeachment charge against the chief magistrate.
There are so many witnesses from the high court, it’s hard to keep count.
Consider. When the late Chief Justice Renato Corona was tried by the Senate at his impeachment trial in 2012, all his colleagues in the high court and all the lower courts and nearly all the court workers at every level rallied behind him. Only one justice expressed some willingness to testify against Corona at the trial—Maria Lourdes Sereno, whom President Benigno Aquino 3rd plucked from nowhere (with not a single day’s experience as a judge) to sit in the high court.
No support for Sereno
This time around, CJ Sereno appears to have no support whatsoever in the high court. Her only likely ally appears to be Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, who shares with her a lack of experience in the bench prior to his appointment to the court. If asked, he will likely decline to testify for Sereno because it will only remind people that he does not belong there. People will remember that as justices with no experience as judges, Sereno and Leonen invariably write the longest concurring or dissenting opinions in court rulings. They compensate for their lack of credentials with verbosity.
No chief justice has looked more forlorn than CJ Sereno. The only vocal support she got was from the man who appointed her associate justice and then chief justice of the Supreme Court – Benigno Aquino 3rd. Aquino said Sereno is being persecuted.
Alas, Aquino has zero influence now. The public’s only interest in him is to see him prosecuted for countless violations and scandals during his administration.
Disrespecting collegiality and rules
Monday’s impeachment hearing was particularly devastating for CJ Sereno.
Four justices of the Supreme Court appeared as witnesses before the House justice committee: Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Noel Tijam, Francis Jardeleza and retired associate justice Arturo Brion.
All four justices blasted Sereno for disrespecting the tribunal’s internal rules and collegiality.
The four said that Sereno’s disregard for the en banc’s, or full court’s, rules and processes had cast doubt on the court’s integrity.
Brion said these violations had already spawned negative sentiments among some members of the court which in some cases had resulted in verbal tussles among the tribunal’s 15 members.
“During en banc sessions, we sometimes clashed with each other,” Brion said, offering a rare glimpse into the dynamics of the court’s deliberations.
Justice Jardeleza, whose appointment to the tribunal was allegedly blocked by Sereno, accused the chief magistrate of treason in 2014 for obtaining “through unlawful means” classified information on the Philippines’ claims over the disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea.
In her second appearance at the hearing, Justice De Castro testified that throughout Sereno’s stint as chief justice, she repeatedly cautioned Sereno about her violations of the Constitution and the court’s collegiality and processes.
The justice said: “I kept calling the attention of the chief justice. I’ve been repeating this for the past five years, but she did not stop her violation of not taking matters to the en banc. We are all together in en banc sessions. How much more will we endure?”
Against the running testimony by court justices and court officials about clear violations of the Constitution and court rules by Sereno, CJ Sereno and her lawyers have maintained one message in her defense: Deny, deny, deny.
Sereno is a typical Filipino official in clinging to office no matter what. She will simply refuse to resign.
Clinging to office doesn’t work?
You can resist for a time, from sheer stubbornness or shamelessness. But in the end, you must bow to the inevitable.
Even Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, the longest serving chief executive in the world, had to yield to widespread opinion in his country that he had to go.
Richard Nixon, just newly reelected as US president, had to bow to the impeachment process in his country.
As the evidence mounted of illegality and wrongdoing by his administration, and as the House prepared to impeach him, Nixon realized that his hold on the presidency was no longer tenable.
Three Republican leaders visited Nixon at the White House in a last meeting with the president. They told Nixon that he had no support among Republicans in either house of Congress to stop his impeachment.
CJ Sereno will be caught in a situation like Nixon’s when the House resumes its impeachment hearings in January. She has no support anywhere
Senate will convict
Should Sereno shift strategy toward moving her case to the Senate for trial? Should she take the advice of her lawyers to take her chances with the senators, because many senators still feel the guilt and public scorn for the travesty trial of CJ Corona, and their acceptance of bribes from President Aquino.
This is fool’s hope.
When Sereno’s Senate trial takes place, everything sordid and illegal that she perpetrated as chief justice will be paraded again, detail by detail. The prosecution will marshal all the hard facts for Sereno’s impeachment.
When the time comes to render the verdict on CJ Sereno, the senators will vote for country above self or sympathy for the lady. They will vote to convict.
In the game of chess, when a player’s position is in checkmate, he or she does not insist on continuing to play. She resigns.
This is how the Sereno drama will end — and not in 2030.