Giving us all the finger
Confronting members of the Coalition for Justice gathered in Baguio yesterday in support of embattled Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, lawyer Larry Gadon whose impeachment complaint set things in motion flashed his middle finger at the crowd which had started booing him.
Gadon is known for losing his temper — cursing and raising his voice even under media scrutiny — at any hint of criticism or doubt raised regarding his motives for filing the case against Sereno. So, his flipping his finger at the critical crowd should not come as a surprise. But it struck me that flipping a finger at the Filipino people was exactly what the entire exercise against Sereno was all about.
Before departing for China, President Duterte no less fessed up to being the mastermind behind all the moves against the Chief Justice. He was reacting to accusations made by Sereno that the President showed his hand when he allowed Solicitor General Jose Calida to file a quo warranto proceeding against her before the Supreme Court. Apparently stung, Mr. Duterte declared: “I’m putting you (Sereno) on notice that I’m now your enemy and you have to be out of the Supreme Court.” He then added that he would “ask” Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to “fast-track the impeachment” case against Sereno. “She is bad for the Philippines,” he then said.
So, the cat is now out of the bag—if it was ever in the bag in the first place. For only the most naïve would believe that Gadon’s charges — inadequate and illogical as they are — emerged fully formed from his brain. It was obvious who was pulling Gadon’s strings. As it was equally obvious who was orchestrating the “chuwariwariwap” act of the members of the House of Representatives’ justice committee, as well as the eager attendance of Supreme Court justices in the committee hearings, washing the high court’s allegedly dirty linen in full public view.
Calida’s petition, which openly showed for the first time the hand of the executive in this campaign to oust Sereno, was just the highlight to the obvious script.
Lawyers, including the IBP, have pointed out as clearly as they could that the quo warranto proceeding, which could summarily dismiss an official from office, does not apply to an impeachable official, which Chief Justice Sereno is.
Some benighted Duterte supporters claim the quo warranto could even be for Sereno’s benefit, as it would spare her from the “ordeal” of an impeachment hearing. But if Sereno’s colleagues in the tribunal—including the five who should inhibit themselves — apply the quo warranto on her, they must surely be aware, as every two-bit lawyer should be, that they are opening themselves to abrupt dismissal, as would any other impeachable official, including the President.
As I write this, no news has yet trickled out of Baguio on how the en banc “Supremes,” with the exemption of Sereno, have decided. But as Mr. Duterte himself said, even if the quo warranto is thrown out, PDuts’ minions in the House will speed up the impeachment case against her, while his minions in the Senate will make sure they do his bidding.
This is a crucial crossroad for our democracy. I had always believed the Supremes would live up to their calling as the last defenders of the Constitution, but the actuations of some up to this point have been dismaying, disappointing, disillusioning. Will they scrap their standing in history and judicial precedence for the sake of obeying the dictates of the President and their political sponsors?
I can well understand their personal and professional differences with the Chief, but surely these should take a back seat to their duty to the Constitution, most especially upholding the independence of the judiciary. After all, aren’t they all grown-ups? Shouldn’t they be able to rise above their schoolyard scraps?
I’m not holding my breath for some heroic relief from the House, and the numbers aren’t looking good for Sereno in the Senate. But in the end, isn’t it the individual’s conscience and principles that are at stake? History’s verdict will come down hard on all who choose convenience over conscience.
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