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There’s The Rub

Battle lines

/ 09:29 PM February 28, 2012

It’s a Catch-22. Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno may not be subpoenaed by the impeachment court because, as Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago pointed out with a degree of lividness that makes even ballistic sound pale, that sets the impeachment court on a collision course with the Supreme Court. But even if Sereno wants to appear in the impeachment court voluntarily, she still may not. That is because the Supreme Court has banned anyone from its ranks from appearing there.

What can I say? I know it requires levels of exceptional courage and fortitude, but Sereno should defy it. Let Santiago get more livid if she wants to. But just to be sure, let’s prepare to march to the Senate in case Sereno does resolve to do so and Santiago tries to bamboozle her colleagues into dismissing her. The way she and the usual suspects dismissed Erap’s second envelope from the pile of evidence.

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For some days now, the Supreme Court has been thumbing down Sereno’s swearing in before the impeachment court, proffering strange arguments for it. Justice Roberto Abad says Sereno already broke the rule on confidentiality when she spoke to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima: “The court’s deliberations are confidential because the court realizes that only by making it so can the justices freely discuss the issues before it. Broadcasting such discussions to the public would have a chilling effect on those who take part in it. One would be careful not to take unpopular positions or make comments that border on the ridiculous. If our deliberations cannot remain confidential, we might as well close down business.”

That’s the very reason Sereno ought to.

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It’s not as if she commented on the judiciousness or ridiculousness of the justices’ arguments in voting for the TRO. It’s not as if she revealed how the justices comport themselves, who tends to talk too loud and too long, or go along meekly with the others. It’s not even as if she exposed the darkest secrets of the justices, including their marital, if not financial, infidelities. All she did was talk about their chief, Renato Corona, bending the high court’s own rules to favor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

That is not a betrayal, that is a public service. Abad’s argument is not an argument against ethics-flouting, it is an argument against whistle-blowing. Confidentiality applies to other offices as well, government or private. True, you do not parade dirty linen in public—but only when dirty linen has to do with personal hygiene, not when it has to do with public health. Where it stands to harm the public, you can, and are obliged, to expose it. You can, and are obliged, to help the public get rid of it. Jun Lozada did not betray his calling when he exposed the NBN-ZTE deal, he lived up to it. He did not harm the public when he exposed immoderate greed, he did it a service.

So has Sereno. So will Sereno.

Why in God’s name should the justices worry about taking the unpopular position if their deliberations were made public? Indeed, why should the justices be chilled to the bone by having the public watch how they think and act? The principled among them would revel at it. They would have the chance to show the courage of their convictions. They would have the opportunity to demonstrate the prodding of conscience. Justices are supposed to possess those in greater abundance than other people. They are not there to vote on the strength of popularity, they are there to vote on the strength of their beliefs. They are not there to seek acclamation, they are there to seek justice. They are not there to do what is acceptable, whether or not the public gets to know about it, they are there to do what is right, whether or not the public gets pleased with it or not.

Of course, some things are unpopular simply because they are unjust. Some things are unconscionable simply because they lack conscience. Why shouldn’t reopening a case you’ve thrice ruled upon with finality in favor of flight attendants not stoke the flight attendants to heights of fury? Why shouldn’t helping Arroyo escape not stoke the public to heights of fury? You’re chilled to the bone by that reaction, you ought to be. You invited it. You deserve it.

If your deliberations cannot stand the test of public scrutiny, you should close shop.

We’ve seen the same pass again these past weeks. The impeachment court already gave in to the Supreme Court’s TRO forbidding it from opening Corona’s dollar accounts. Now it is giving in to the Supreme Court’s TKO knocking down the possibility of Supreme Court personnel coming out to swear to what they know. That sounds familiar? It should be. Arroyo employed the same tack in her time, forbidding any public official from testifying against her without her permission. The person under indictment is free to decree the rules. The institution under suspicion is free to set the law.

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P-Noy has a point: It’s time we spoke our mind about the judiciary as it has turned out to be. It’s time we spoke our mind about the impeachment court as it is turning out to be. It’s time we exercised People Power. What collision course? The Senate and Supreme Court are not fiefdoms to be guarded ferociously by jealous warlords. They are extensions of the people, they exist to carry out the people’s will. There is no Gordian knot where there is Alexander’s sword. There is no collision course where there is People Power.

It is not taking the law into our own hands. That is where the law belongs. Not summoning People Power in the face of all this is allowing them to take the law into their own hands. Which is where it does not belong. Not by our experience of history, not by our struggle to end tyranny, not by our capacity to finally make ourselves free.

Time to gear up for battle.

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TAGS: corona impeachment, featured column, law and ethics, public service, Senate, Supreme Court
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