Give her a chance, it’s only fair.
Catholic Church leaders on Monday issued guarded statements on the appointment by President Benigno Aquino of Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to replace ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona.
“She has a lot of time, almost two decades… a lot of time to prove herself in terms of making the administration of justice much faster than it is now, which is a primary concern and agenda for her as Chief Justice,” said retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz.
Cruz expressed concern principally on moves by Mr. Aquino to push forward the controversial reproductive health (RH) bill. He said he expected the population control measure vehemently opposed by the Church to eventually reach the Supreme Court.
“I feel sad because there are suspicions about her fidelity. It is sad that her fidelity would be to the President and not to what the law says and what people need,” said the retired archbishop of Lingayen and Dagupan who is a former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
“This doubt of her fidelity brings to mind another concern that in the event the RH bill is approved in the legislative department, it can be assumed that it will be brought to the SC to question its constitutionality. How will she decide? Is that again in terms of fidelity to the President or to the law? There’s also the matter of the Hacienda Luisita wherein her vote was more in favor of the dynasty than in deference to the farmers,” Cruz said.
While expressing similar sentiments, Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez said, “Give her a chance to prove that she is a good Chief Justice.”
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said he did not know Sereno, 52, who would be at the helm of the judiciary for 18 years until the retirement age of 70, that well.
But Pabillo said he was worried about her position supporting demands of Mr. Aquino’s family, which owns Hacienda Luisita, for a higher compensation in distributing the sugar plantation to its workers.
“That’s one negative thing I heard about her,” said Pabillo, chairman of the CBCP’s National Secretariat for Social Action.
Mr. Aquino on Monday gave Sereno, a former batchmate at Ateneo de Manila University, her marching orders after swearing in his first appointee to the high tribunal on Saturday in Malacañang.
“I expect that you weigh your judgment and decision so that people’s trust in the institution you’re heading will be restored,” Mr. Aquino said in a speech marking National Heroes’ Day at Libingan ng mga Bayani.
“The people’s mandate to you is: Let the fair system of justice prevail. It should be impartial to either the rich or poor, to ordinary Filipinos or the powerful,” he said before a crowd of diplomats, Cabinet officials and veterans under a tent behind the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“Don’t lose heart when a deluge of challenges comes your way. Be assured that the Filipino nation is your ally,” he said.
Mr. Aquino said Sereno’s appointment added more meaning to the celebration of National Heroes’ Day. “She’s the first lady Chief Justice and one of the youngest heads of the judiciary,” the President said.
Sereno has her work cut out for her following the divisive impeachment trial that ousted Corona for nondisclosure of his assets.
But first she has to bring together all the high tribunal’s 13 justices, including the more senior ones who were bypassed by her appointment. The five senior justices, led by Antonio Carpio, were absent during Sereno’s oath-taking.
Culture shock a glitch
Senator Edgardo Angara said he expected a “temporary glitch or discomfort” as a result of disenchantment among Sereno’s senior colleagues. “Her selection was very unique and unprecedented. So there is some cultural shock involved.”
The National Union of People’s Lawyers in a statement welcomed Sereno’s appointment, saying “we shall temper our expectations and let her decisions and actions speak for themselves.”
Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan said the women’s group would be closely watching Sereno’s performance.
“A woman-led Supreme Court does not necessarily translate to a prowoman, propoor judiciary,” Ilagan said in a statement. She said Gabriela was wary about Sereno because of her Hacienda Luisita vote.
Out of her mind?
Also on Monday, Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. dismissed news reports that Sereno got a low score in the psychological test required by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), along with Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza. The council screened Sereno, Jardeleza and 18 other nominees for Chief Justice.
Tupas, the House representative to the JBC, said no member of the council questioned the results of Sereno’s psychological test, in which nominees were given a grade of one to five.
He said, however, that Sereno could not have made it to the short list of eight candidates submitted to the President had she flunked the test.
“If an applicant gets a five, the applicant won’t be considered. If the applicant gets a four, the applicant will not be disqualified. Apparently, nobody raised the matter during the deliberations,” Tupas said over the phone.
“Definitely, she must have gotten a four or lower,” he added. “You won’t be competent to be appointed if you are out of your mind.”
The JBC on Monday announced it would meet on September 3 to begin the process of selecting the vacancy left by Sereno’s promotion in the 15-member tribunal.
Jose Mejia, a JBC member, said the 90-day period for the President to fill the vacancy began with Sereno’s appointment as Chief Justice. With reports from Cathy C. Yamsuan, Christine O. Avendaño and Leila B. Salaverria