Damaging the Court
New presidential spokesperson Harry Roque knows first-hand what it means for an institution to sustain substantial damage to its reputation.
As a first-term congressman, he gleefully dove into the cesspool that was the congressional inquiry into Sen. Leila de Lima’s alleged sins.
The participation of the former human rights lawyer in the demonization of President Duterte’s chief critic, especially his salacious, sexually charged questioning of Ronnie Dayan, the senator’s former driver and lover, was a disgusting display of power and prurience.
The stench that emerged from those House justice committee hearings continues to stick to the Batasan grounds, and has even wafted its putrid way to the Supreme Court.
It was this unbecoming conduct that forced Roque’s Kabayan party-list group to sanction him, and eventually oust him. As it stands, the current jurisprudence favors incumbents, even those expressly nominated to represent party-list groups.
Even as Kabayan’s reputation took a hit, Roque, its first nominee and the cause of its reputational damage, continued to serve as representative.
So when Roque alleges that the impeachment of Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno may damage the Supreme Court itself, we have no choice but to listen.
“I call on Chief Justice to consider resigning to spare the institution from any further damage,” Roque said on Monday.
He was responding to Sereno’s speech earlier in the day, where she spoke, in passing, of the “resurgence of political forces threatening and harassing the independence of the judiciary.”
“I do not think the judiciary can survive another decision that would remove an incumbent chief justice,” he said by way of explanation.
This is rich, or to create a new category of irony that reflects the reckless sense of privilege of those new to high office or real power, nouveau riche.
In the first place, Roque was one of those who sought to impeach the chief justice, in his capacity as a member of the House of Representatives.
Now, as spokesperson of the President, he no longer enjoys that capacity; instead, when he speaks for the President (and that is the only reason the reporters and the cameras are there to record his statements), he speaks for the Executive — the same executive branch of government that earlier said, as it was duty-bound to say and to do, that it was observing a hands-off attitude to the Sereno impeachment. Roque had yet again overstepped his bounds.
Second, reporters in the press briefing took notice, and asked him whether his call for Sereno to resign was in fact the position of the President, the principal he is merely the agent of.
He replied: “It should be because he called for the impeachment and removal of the chief justice.”
In short, he did not know but merely assumed that it was so.
There may be no question that the President wants Sereno out, but the role of the presidential spokesperson is to speak for the President, not to make policy and then merely attribute it to an assumption that the policy (nothing less than calling on the head of the third branch of government to resign) “should be” the position of the President. (This is how you damage the office of the spokesperson.)
Third, the constitutional order established by the framers assumes that the system, including the judiciary, can survive the impeachment and conviction of the highest officials any number of times.
The Constitution does not place a limit on the number of times an impeachable position can be vacated. However, this assumption is based on an even more fundamental principle: That the process of impeaching and removing a high official, even a chief justice, follows reasonable rules and meets common-sense expectations.
This brings us to the fourth and main point. The damage to the Supreme Court that Roque so piously fears can only come from a few sources: A disrespect for the rule of law, a sweeping disregard for truth, a disdain for those who are at the mercy of the powers-that-be.
It will not come from the acts of someone defending herself in the rightful way; the damage will come from politicians and lawyers who place power over law.
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