Just a ‘bump in the road’?
This being Mother’s Day, apart from being the first day after Friday’s “Day of Judicial Infamy,” let me open this column with excerpts from a Facebook post of former — ousted, booted, dismissed? — chief justice Maria Lourdes “Meilou” Sereno’s son Joren.
In his post, Joren Sereno focused, not on his mother’s career as a lawyer and jurist, but on her life as a mother, especially the sacrifices she had to make to achieve a balance between raising her family and pursuing her career.
What struck me most about Joren’s account was how, like every other mother out there, the “Chief” had to make numerous tradeoffs: refusing an offer for a prestigious job in Switzerland because her son balked at being away from his friends and classmates, and leaving a prominent law firm because she felt her youngest child still needed her presence at home. And yet, despite the missed opportunities, she would go on to forge a name for herself, especially as the first woman chief justice in the Philippines.
Which is why, Joren writes, his mother meets even the most adverse events with a smile: “[She] always smiled in dark times.” Here is how the son describes the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision to expel his mother: “You can’t keep Meilou Sereno down. Been there, done that. Just another bump in the road.”
Well, we’ll see if the high court’s decision on the quo warranto petition against Sereno is also just a bump in the road for our country, our history.
Dire predictions have been made about the deeper and wider meaning(s) of the “QW” decision. From the slough of despond that Friday’s news plunged me, I can see only deeper darkness and darker dangers. It is obvious that CJ Sereno’s biggest “sin,” in the eyes of the Duterte administration, is her being an Aquino appointee. That, and the fact that one of the earliest pushbacks against the Duterte war on drugs came from her, when she reminded judges nationwide to maintain their independence despite pressures to go along with the “Tokhang” mentality.
The judiciary is one of three “coequal” branches of the government, among which the system of checks and balances is supposed to ensure real democracy in the country. But early on, Malacañang had clearly coopted the House and the Senate, with both chambers smilingly playing along with its every wish. The judiciary also seemed within easy reach, since the majority of the justices appeared quite amenable to Malacañang’s initiatives, including allowing the burial of Ferdinand Marcos’ remains in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Except for a thorny obstacle: independent-minded justices including, if not led by, Sereno.
But not even the process of impeachment, initiated by a little-known and foul-mouthed lawyer, seemed fast or sure enough for Malacañang. The filing of a pleading for the grant of quo warranto against Sereno was at first dismissed outright by many lawyers, law educators and law associations since the Constitution is clear on the proper manner of ousting a justice, especially a chief justice. But stranger things can happen in the course of politics and governance.
The Supreme Court’s decision was described by Justice Alfredo Caguioa in his minority opinion as marking “the time when the Court commits seppuku (the Japanese ritual of suicide)—without honor.” This is so because the eight justices who voted for the motion, said Caguioa, did so “at the expense and to the extreme prejudice of the independence of the Judiciary, the independence of the Court’s individual members, and the freedom of discourse within the Court.”
But it is not just the judiciary’s independence that is at stake here. Also at stake are the existence and vigor of our democracy, which thrives only in freedom and justice, both of which are imperiled when the executive branch wields unfettered power.
Let me end this by voicing my extreme disappointment at the behavior of some of the justices among, to quote Inquirer columnist Solita Monsod, “the rogue and craven” eight. How disheartening that some would sacrifice the very soul of the institution they represent out of mere pique and personal dislike. We expected more from you.
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