As expected, the decision of the Supreme Court rendered last Friday which declared the appointment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno void, was welcomed by anti-Sereno groups and denounced by others.
One justice of the Supreme Court who favored Sereno called it “a legal abomination.” Sereno’s allies labelled it “a betrayal of democracy,” “the triumph of one-man rule,” and “a threat to judicial independence.”
Two senators aligned with the moribund Liberal Party (LP), and one senator devoted to ex-President Benigno Aquino III branded the decision as “a bad precedent.” Another pro-Aquino senator said it “reduced the powers of both houses of Congress.”
As usual, Sereno equated her ouster with the end of judicial independence. Aquino III and the purported vice president of the country, Leni Robredo, echoed Sereno’s propaganda. They added that Sereno may be removed from office only through impeachment proceedings in Congress.
Several senators were also displeased with the decision not because they favored Sereno, but because they were looking forward to a pompous impeachment trial. Obviously, that would have provided the senators free political publicity for an extended period.
Those who lauded Sereno’s ouster likened the decision to the liberation of the Filipino people from an incompetent and disqualified public official whose sole task is to protect the interests of Aquino III, who appointed her to the Supreme Court, as seen in her propensity to rule in favor of her benefactor in the many cases involving the latter.
One commentary emphasized that Sereno never really practiced Law, and that she never even saw the inside of a courtroom.
Four days before the decision came out, and in obvious anticipation of it, Sereno’s supporters published a two-page newspaper advertisement calling the petition illegal and criticizing the Supreme Court for entertaining it. Six justices were called unethical jurists because they refused to inhibit themselves in the Sereno case despite what Sereno’s camp claimed was the justices’ bias against Sereno. For Sereno’s supporters, the refusal of the justices to inhibit themselves violated Sereno’s right to due process.
The advertisement carried the names of an unelected ex-vice president, two senators from the LP, a senator beholden to Aquino III, a few former senators and congressmen, and several former and incumbent left-leaning party-list representatives. There were also politicized priests and nuns, non-Catholic church leaders, and left-leaning academics, writers, actors, and student activists in the list. No known expert in Constitutional Law was listed.
Hours before the justices voted on the petition, Sereno supporters camped outside the Supreme Court building in Manila. They had tents, food stations, and mass-produced posters. If there were ordinary folk among them, the manifestly wealthy-looking dominated the gathering. Many of them arrived in luxury vehicles.
Several women in the crowd claimed that the ouster of Sereno is an assault on women’s rights.
Now that Sereno and her supporters have expressed their views about the decision of the Supreme Court, it is time for Sereno to answer several questions.
That two-page newspaper advertisement certainly cost a lot of money. Who paid for it? Why were there no constitutionalists listed in the advertisement? Expression of opinion is one thing. Passing off opinion as established legal doctrine is something else.
As pointed out in this column last week, long before the petition against Sereno was filed in the Supreme Court, Sereno had already denounced the separate impeachment complaint earlier filed against her in the House of Representatives as a violation of the Constitution and, as she would repeatedly say, a threat to judicial independence.
So if impeachment is really objectionable as Sereno publicly asserted before she was ousted as chief justice, why is it that when she was still an associate justice of the Supreme Court, she did not vote in favor of then Chief Justice Renato Corona when the latter filed a petition in the Supreme Court to stop his impeachment by Congress? How come she did not speak up against the impeachment of Corona? Was it because her benefactor, President Aquino III, was openly supporting the impeachment and removal of Corona? Is it because Sereno knew in advance that her benefactor will appoint her the chief justice in the event that Corona is ousted by the Senate?
When Corona filed his petition to stop the impeachment proceedings against him, he demanded that Sereno inhibit herself from further participating in his case because of alleged bias on the part of Sereno. Corona’s demand notwithstanding, Sereno did not inhibit herself, even if Corona insisted that Sereno’s refusal to inhibit violated his right to due process.
When it was Sereno’s turn to plead to the Supreme Court, this time in the quo warranto petition filed against her by the Solicitor General, Sereno demanded that six justices inhibit themselves from her case—also on the ground of alleged bias. When the six justices refused to inhibit themselves, Sereno protested and alleged that her right to due process was denied. Huh? Why is there a violation of due process now that Sereno is the pleader, and otherwise when Corona was the pleader?
And when Justice Francis Jardeleza was applying for membership in the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Sereno, who was the chairman of the Judicial and Bar Council, questioned his integrity and decided to block his application. Sereno’s ruling was subject to review by the JBC.
When the JBC was set to review Sereno’s ruling, and despite Jardeleza’s objection, Sereno insisted on participating in the review. Because Sereno refused to recluse herself, Jardeleza invoked his right to due process and sued Sereno in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court agreed with Jardeleza and ruled that due process demands that Sereno should not participate in the review of her own ruling.
Withal, why did Sereno and her supporters accuse the Supreme Court of violating her right to due process when Sereno does not even seem to understand the concept of due process in the first place?