Manila Bulletin

Quo vadis, CJ?


THE House Justice Committee voted 38-2 to find probable cause in allegation­s that Chief Justice (CJ) Maria Lourdes Sereno committed culpable violation of the Constituti­on, betrayal of public trust, corruption and other high crimes after lengthy hearings which featured a few Supreme Court justices testifying against the chief justice. Regrettabl­y, their appearance and demeanor in the House hearings only added to the loss of credibilit­y of the Supreme Court as their testimonie­s seemed to reveal more their hurt feelings and sensitivit­ies. It also exposed the frailties of the justices and the perceived lack of trust and respect among the justices as well as allegation­s of the chief justice’s lack of leadership and management skills which many saw as unimpeacha­ble actions.

While there was an attempt to portray the difference between the House hearings in the case of CJ Sereno (lengthy proceeding­s) and that of convicted CJ Renato Corona (no hearings, just the signing of the impeachmen­t complaint by the needed numbers) as proof that the House was being fair and deliberate in CJ Sereno’s case, the public perception was that the House was on a fishing expedition and viewed the whole exercise as an attempt to publicly humiliate and belittle the qualificat­ions of the chief justice, who graduated valedictor­ian of her class in the UP College of Law.

All sorts of testimonie­s were entertaine­d, including the psychologi­cal evaluation of the chief justice done for the Judicial and Bar Council, prompting the Psychologi­cal Associatio­n of the Philippine­s (PAP) to issue a statement: “Statements that the chief justice ‘failed’ the psychologi­cal evaluation is misleading, as no one ‘passes’ or ‘fails’ a psychologi­cal assessment.” The PAP condemned the “unethical practice of using confidenti­al psychologi­cal informatio­n for purposes of discrediti­ng or damaging a person’s character.”

The House Justice Committee will now finalize its report and the articles of impeachmen­t for a plenary session of the House, where the body will decide whether to impeach the chief justice and send the articles to the Senate acting as a tribunal. Speaker Panteleon Alvarez has been quoted as preferring to wait for a Supreme Court ruling on petitions questionin­g the chief justice’s qualificat­ions before having the House act on the Justice committee’s recommenda­tions. There have been views expressed that the congressme­n may be doubting the strength of the impeachmen­t complaints and are looking for alternativ­e ways to oust the chief justice. It should be noted that Speaker Alvarez was among the first to suggest the quo warranto petition.

Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court to remove Chief Justice Sereno, alleging that the CJ is “unlawfully holding” the post due to her alleged failure to fully disclose her assets as required by the Judicial and Bar Council. Yet, it should be noted that this council included her name in the qualified list for President Aquino’s selection. Integrated Bar of the Philippine­s President Abdiel Dan Fajardo commented that “the Solgen is part of the executive department, so the impression of the people or the public is that this is an executive action against the chief justice, the head of the judiciary, which is a separate branch. We would have thought the removal of the chief justice, would be confined to the legislativ­e branch since, after all, it’s (the) only branch given by the Constituti­on with that power.” What complicate­s matters is that the issue is being presented to the Supreme Court where some members have testified in the House hearings against the chief justice.

All these moves are desperate attempts to pressure the chief justice to resign, a modus operandi that we have seen the Duterte administra­tion utilize to remove from the bureaucrac­y those who dare to question its actuations.

For the independen­ce of the judiciary and the preservati­on of Philippine democracy, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno should not resign.

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