Quo vadis, Meilou?
With the denial of her motion for reconsideration and the affirmation of the Supreme Court’s May 11 judgment ousting her, Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno faces severely challenging options. Will she continue to fight for her seat? Will she succumb to the titillation to join the 2019 senatorial elections? Will she continue to be a private “voice for the people”? Or will she just fade away quietly?
To recall, the 8-6 decision written by Justice Noel G. Tijam found her “DISQUALIFIED from and… adjudged GUILTY of UNLAWFULLY HOLDING and EXERCISING the OFFICE OF THE CHIEF JUSTICE… Accordingly, (she)… is OUSTED and EXCLUDED therefrom.” (Caps in original)
She was also “ordered to SHOW CAUSE within ten (10) days from receipt hereof why she should not be sanctioned for violating the Code of Professional Responsibility and the Code of Judicial Conduct for transgressing the sub judice rule and for casting aspersions and ill motives to the Members of the Supreme Court.”
And, unlike in impeachments where, constitutionally, the penalty may include “disqualification to hold any office under the Republic of the Philippines,” the Court did not bar her from accepting another public office. Thus, she could run for and be elected senator or appointed to any post, now or in the future.
Despite the Court’s judgment, she still has an arguable claim to the chief magistracy on the theory that the decision is void from the beginning for having been rendered without due process by an allegedly biased majority that had already prejudged her even prior to the filing of the quo warranto petition.
After having served as an associate justice for two years and chief justice for six, she will turn 58 on July 2 and would have had a remaining term of 12 more years as CJ till 2030. Should political fortunes metamorphose and the Court’s composition change, she could putatively be returned to her post.
However, should she run for and be elected senator, she would be deemed to have waived any more claim to the highest magistracy of the land.
Similarly, when Miriam Defensor Santiago ran for and won as a senator, she was deemed to have abandoned her electoral protest and presidential claim. And so it was also with Chief Justice Marcelo B. Fernan, who had to leave the Court when he decided to join the 1992 race for president (he eventually ran for vice president).
An option that will preserve her putative CJ claim is to continue her advocacy for reform via the public fora and citizens movements, without accepting any government or private office.
This would be ironic, given that she had a more powerful, though less effervescent, pulpit in the Court. She lost that pulpit partly because she unwisely, in my humble view, ventured occasionally into the murky political thicket without first securing the support of her colleagues in Mt. Olympus, thereby incurring the ire of the god of the political plains with “You have now become my enemy.”
This option will likewise expose her to more punitive actions in the form of criminal and civil cases for alleged violations of the Revised Penal Code, National Internal Revenue Code and other laws.
And remember, the Court is not yet finished with her, as she could still be disbarred and/or penalized for contempt for “transgressing the sub judice rule and for casting aspersions and ill motives to the Members of the Supreme Court.”
Also, she could be denied retirement benefits, as the late CJ Renato C. Corona was. These benefits are substantial because her 20-year service as a University of the Philippines professor could be tacked to her eight years in the Court. With 28 or so years of government service, she could be entitled to the retirement package that includes the pay of an incumbent for life, which extends to her spouse in case she predeceases him.
But then again, the receipt of retirement benefits would mean a waiver of any claim to her remaining term.
At bottom, the former CJ faces the same question that was apocryphally thrown by the apostle Peter to Jesus: Quo vadis, Meilou? Will you, like the risen Jesus, return to Calvary to be crucified again? Or will you just fade away, be forgotten, avoid further lashings and enjoy retirement?
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