A tarnished Supreme Court

posted March 03, 2018 at 07:19 am
by  Elizabeth Angsioco

To begin, let me categorically say that I believe that the ongoing impeachment hearings against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is part of a bigger scheme for this administration to totally control the three supposed to be independent-from-each-other branches of government.

The powers that be want Sereno out.

It is no secret that there is no love lost between President Rodrigo Duterte and the CJ. Duterte has hit Sereno several times since he assumed the presidency. It is also a fact that Sereno’s voting records will show that she went against the declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao, Marcos burial in the Libingan ng Mga Bayani, and martial law extension. These are issues important to Duterte himself.

As it is, Duterte already controls the executive and legislative branches. While he has been winning in the Supreme Court, it remains a fact that unlike Congress, the SC is not headed by someone he can control. Perhaps this does not sit well with the President.

It should also be noted that if Sereno is not removed, because of her age, she will still be the CJ even after the terms of office of Duterte and his men are finished. Perhaps they want someone friendlier in the Court that will most probably decide on cases likely to be filed against them in the future.

Thus, the impeachment case against Sereno is not simply about her person but about the independence of judiciary. This is the premise why my disappointment with how the Supreme Court has been acting runs deep.

In a statement, 13 Associate Justices of the Supreme Court said that the statement of chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s spokepersons “seriously damaged the integrity of the Judiciary in general and the Supreme Court in particular.” The Justices were referring to lawyer Jojo Lacanilao’s statement that CJ Sereno was advancing her already scheduled “wellness leave.”

This was after the said Justices confronted Sereno during an en banc meeting about her allegedly missing Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth covering years before she worked at the SC. The 13 asked her to take an indefinite leave of absence though some reports said that what they really wanted was for her to resign.

What the 13 Justices wanted was for Sereno herself, not her spokespersons, to make the announcement that she was going on an indefinite, not wellness leave. The CJ, in her Feb. 28 letter addressed to the Deputy Clerk of Court indicated that she was taking an indefinite leave to prepare for the anticipated Senate impeachment trial. She also said that a portion of the leave is to be charged against her approved wellness leave.

Curiously, later on that same day, a letter surfaced and was circulated within the high court asking Sereno to resign. There is no information as of yet as to who started and who signed such letter.

Sereno and her spokesperson have since apologized for the confusion that may have been caused by the wellness leave announcement.

I agree with the 13 Justices that the integrity of the Supreme Court has been damaged. However, with apologies to them, such damage has been inflicted not by the wrong announcement by CJ Sereno’s spokesperson but by certain acts by Court officials themselves. These have diminished the Court’s image in the eyes of the people.

This Supreme Court is unlike those that preceded it. This Court has been engaging in acts never before seen done by those who are supposed to embody justice and rule of law. The SC has always been shrouded in “mystery” because of all government branches, it is the least seen, heard, and known by the people. The Court usually does its work without fanfare and much publicity. We only hear about its decisions.

Members of the Court, though rarely seen, are highly respected. They are not ordinary beings like you and me. Thus, no one expected Justices to wash the Court’s dirty laundry in public as they did when some of them chose to speak in the impeachment hearings against Sereno.

They exposed the Court as not being above politics but steeped in it.

They exposed themselves as people with the same frailties and vulnerabilities as ordinary persons. Perhaps without meaning to, they made public their jealousies and gripes not just against Sereno, but her getting the highest position in the Court.

The SC is exposed as another “snakepit.” Even before the Justices came out with what was done in the en-banc, leaks were already being reported by media. This is unethical to say the least. The worst by far is the claim by Justice Committee Chair that certain Justices reported to him what actually transpired in the en banc. Since when did the SC report to the House?

The Justices ended up playing the political game of the House of Representatives. The Supreme Court has lost some of its luster. It is a tarnished Supreme Court.

Lest we forget, the Associate Justices are public servants just like anyone in government. They are ACCOUNTABLE to the people. Since they have started talking, it is time to demand that they also tell the people their motives for what they are now doing.

Why did they “force” Sereno to go on an indefinite leave? What was the legal basis of their action?

Are the Justices going to go after those who leaked information to the media and the Justices who “reported” to Umali?

The Supreme Court should be transparent and accountable to the people. The Supreme Court, this tarnished Court, is playing a very dangerous game. It will be hard to trust its decisions unless the Justices show the country that they deserve the trust, again.

bethangsioco@gmail.com 

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Topics: categorically say , ongoing impeachment , hearings , Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno
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