Chief Justice hits persecution of admin’s enemies
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno — forced to take an indefinite leave by colleagues and faced with a disqualification petition in the Supreme Court and a looming impeachment trial in the Senate — on Wednesday lambasted the “dominant order” for subjecting its “perceived enemies” to “harassment, intimidation and persecution.”
Sereno assailed attempts to circumvent the constitutional process of exacting accountability from government officials two days after Solicitor General Jose Calida sought her ouster from the top post in the judiciary through a quo warranto petition.
Calida questioned the validity of Sereno’s appointment as Chief Justice in 2012, claiming she did not submit the required statements of assets, liabilities and net worth.
Thus, he said, Sereno had failed to prove her integrity as an applicant for Chief Justice.
Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, one of the 13 magistrates who compelled Sereno to take an indefinite break, has rejected outright Calida’s pleading, reiterating that the Chief Justice may be removed only through impeachment.
But other members of the Supreme Court decided to require Sereno to answer within 10 days the quo warranto petition, which challenges an official’s right to hold a government post.
In a 25-minute speech at St. Scholastica’s College in Manila, Sereno said that in the current state of the nation “shortcuts are preferred over adherence to constitutional guarantees of human rights, including denial of due process.”
Harmful to future
“Fake news and propaganda abound to deceive and manipulate, rather than enlighten and educate, the public,” she said.
Sereno expressed hope that the public would soon recognize that “impromptu, extemporized, unprepared and unthought-out plans of action that run contrary to the structured way the Constitution designed accountability, harm our nation’s long-term future.”
Looking poised in a black business attire, she said: “Eventually, as our people get exposed to understanding the Constitution, they will internalize the painstaking steps that must be taken to truly build a nation.”
The Chief Justice, however, declined to be interviewed by reporters after the event.
“Happy women’s month,” a smiling Sereno told journalists when asked to comment on Calida’s legal action against her.
Denigration of women
Hurling potshots at President Rodrigo Duterte, the Chief Justice lamented that “coarseness, including the denigration of women, rather than civility, mark the language of the podium.”
At the gathering on the eve of International Women’s Day, Sereno urged the audience, which included former Commission on Audit Chair Grace Pulido-Tan and former Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, “not to be passive spectators to what is happening.”
Mr. Duterte, who repeatedly boasts about his philandering ways, has been under fire from women’s groups and human rights activists for his penchant for making rape jokes and sexist remarks in his speeches.
In her speech, Sereno maintained that the 1987 Constitution clearly spells out that the “nation’s goal is to build a just and humane society” and that it should promote “independence and democracy, not authoritarianism.”
“Anything that diminishes its humanity and justness is anti-Constitution and anti-Filipino,” she said.
“[The] government must embody the highest level of nobility, good, wisdom, righteousness in the Filipino and this qualitative standard is the norm, nothing else,” she added.
Although Sereno shied away from discussing the impeachment complaint against her and Calida’s attempt to solicit her colleagues’ help in ousting her from the judiciary’s top post, Sereno said several agencies were created by the Constitution to ensure transparency in the bureaucracy.
Champions of accountability
She said the Supreme Court was part of a group called the Constitutional Fiscal Autonomy Group (CFAG), whose mandate is to scrutinize the performance of officials in certain government offices and “be the public champions of accountability.”
The Civil Service Commission, Commission on Elections, Commission on Audit, Office of the Ombudsman and Commission on Human Rights are also members of the group.
She said these offices were created by the Constitution to “stay above the fray and look at the future on a long-term structured basis.”
Sereno said she drew inspiration from the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Cecilia Muñoz-Palma, whose life was “dedicated to the defense of the rule of law, justice and human rights.”
“In some of the darkest days of our nation’s history, similar to the situation that I described a few days ago, when hope seems at its dimmest, she was at her very best. And I call upon all of you to be at your very best when hope seems at its dimmest,” Sereno said.
It was Sereno’s second public appearance since she was forced to go on an indefinite leave by other justices on Feb. 27.
On March 2, Sereno told a university forum that she would not resign and insisted that the impeachment process should be respected.
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