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Sisyphus’ Lament

How can CJ Sereno beat impeachment?

/ 05:08 AM December 18, 2017

SINGAPORE — Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s defense criticizes the House committee on justice impeachment hearings as a “dog and pony show.” The game plan is no longer legal, but to portray a telenovela where bitter justices vent petty grievances.

Three months ago, I catalogued the footnotes of lawyer Lorenzo Gadon’s impeachment complaint (“What is in the Sereno impeachment complaint?”, Inquirer.net, 9/13/17).

I emphasized: “many of Gadon’s allegations are not even supported by news clippings — these cite no basis at all.”

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But — and this is a big but — two charges were based on facts narrated in actual Supreme Court decisions.

Despite full spoilers, the spectacle became a frustrating bore. The public lost interest by the time four justices testified last Dec. 11.

Team Sereno capitalized by reframing everything as politics, not law. They condition an underwhelmed public to think solely in conspiracy theories and personal animosity.

Memes downplay a “jealous” Justice Teresita de Castro who wanted to be chief justice and Justice Francis Jardeleza as resentful.

Team Sereno downplayed each possible attack buried in the justices’ avalanche of mundane details.

First, what some dismiss as administrative infighting was cast by De Castro and other justices as a pattern of Sereno acting unilaterally, without Supreme Court consensus.

Inquirer columnist Joel Butuyan argued last Oct. 9 that such a “string of betrayal” could be betrayal of public trust, a ground to impeach. Congressmen posited it could be unconstitutional as the Supreme Court is collegial, though one prefers the collegial Supreme Court solve its own problems.

Incidentally, if the chief justice was to be appointed based on seniority, “jealous” De Castro was not the most senior in 2012.

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Second, Sereno violated constitutional due process when Jardeleza was nominated as justice, as documented in the 2014 Jardeleza decision.

Chairing the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), she charged him with lack of integrity then voted to uphold her own charge. She was both prosecutor and judge, like Floyd Mayweather being both referee and boxer against Manny Pacquiao.

Third, Jardeleza accused Sereno of treason. To charge him in the JBC, she jeopardized the then pending arbitration against China by divulging the Philippine legal strategy on the rocks called Itu Aba.

Fourth, the 2016 Aguinaldo decision on Sereno allegedly unconstitutionally “clustering” JBC nominees barely received airtime.

And Team Sereno played hypertechnical, masterfully copying Solicitor General Jose Calida. In Sen. Leila de Lima’s case,
he diverted public debate to procedural minutiae, away from contents of drug charges against her.

Team Sereno deflected the Jardeleza issue from constitutional due process to nitpick how the crime of treason only exists during war. They claimed Sereno only followed JBC rules—which never envisioned a JBC member simultaneously being the accuser before the JBC.

They stirred up anger over Sereno’s nonexistent right to cross-examine witnesses in hearings. The basic right under due process is merely to be heard, and they made daily rebuttals on TV.

Noting the near unanimous vote to extend martial law, the House can vote to impeach Sereno anytime. But Team Sereno conditions a blanket mindset that all criticism is bickering along the lines of who sits with who in the Supreme Court cafeteria,
à la Mean Girls.

No less than the Inquirer’s Dec. 15 editorial “A spectacle of diminishment” demonstrates this mindset. It decries “a sordid confessional melodrama where they proved, not that Sereno committed impeachable offenses, but that the present Court is a bitterly divided one, riven by personal grievances.”

The Inquirer dismisses the violation of due process in the Jardeleza decision as a “questionable move,” in the same way
17-year-old Kian delos Santos’ death in an anti-drug operation is “collateral damage.”

Team Sereno cunningly embraces impeachment is a political process. Can they win with political spin as the House of Representatives squeezes out what actual
legal spin is in the complaint?

React: oscarfranklin.tan@yahoo.com.ph, Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan.

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TAGS: Francis Jardeleza, Joel Ruiz Butuyan, Lorenzo Gadon, Maria Lourdes Sereno, Oscar Franklin Tan, Sereno impeachment, Sisyphus’ Lament, Supreme Court, Teresita de Castro
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