MORE and more people seem to believe the nation’s political clock is fast approaching “midnight,” and we could all be hurt very badly when it strikes.
They believe the following are converging or have converged to hasten it:
• The projected lynching of Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno by her Supreme Court colleagues at the President’s bidding through the quo warranto process;
• A political sandstorm arising from the overseas Filipino workers (OFW) issue in Kuwait, which has already caused the expulsion of Philippine Ambassador Renato Villa from his post;
• President Rodrigo Duterte’s failure to protect Philippine sovereign rights over sea areas within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Spratlys and to respond to China’s recent actual military use of Mischief Reef;
• Allegations of extrajudicial drug killings involving thousands, topped by DU30’s threats and intimidations of international authorities who seek to inquire into such allegations;
• Deportation of Sister Patricia Fox, a 71-year-old Australian Catholic missionary, who has been working for the poor in the Philippines for 27 years, and denies making an allegedly politically partisan speech during a rally of the poor.
The SC lynch mob
No member of the Supreme Court has ever tried to deny the fact that under the Constitution, the Chief Justice, like the President, Vice President, other members of the high court, members of the constitutional commissions, and the Ombudsman, may be removed from office only by death, permanent disability, resignation, or impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes or betrayal of public trust, with the concurrence of no less than two thirds of all the members of the Senate.
CJ Maria Lourdes Sereno is facing an impeachment complaint in the House of Representatives. The committee on justice has approved the complaint. But the House has not acted on it, fearing the Senate would dismiss it without a trial or fail to convict and remove the respondent in an impeachment trial. So, the Solicitor General filed a quo warranto petition, which makes her colleagues as her judges, even though five of them are also her accusers. The justices have no right, or duty or power to remove their chief. But DU30 has publicly and angrily ordered it, and his orders are always obeyed.
This is the strongest argument why, according to SC sources, the justices have decided to oust their chief. Better that the Constitution and the court lie in ruins than an angry President denounce you as a disappointment. Justices must be ready to sacrifice the truth if they cannot sacrifice themselves for it.
The justices will not only vote for Sereno’s removal, the sources said, they will declare her automatically removed as soon as they are able to muster a simple majority vote, even though at least two-thirds of all the senators are needed to convict the respondent in an impeachment trial. Since the Constitution does not give the justices the power to remove any of their colleagues, there is nothing written which says how many votes are needed to remove the chief justice. They will now proclaim a simple majority of eight is all that’s needed.
The issue here has never been Sereno, who is not sinless. It is and has always been the Constitution and the high court. Yesterday, on the second death anniversary of the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona, whose pre-arranged conviction at his impeachment trial still cry for justice, I prayed on his crypt that God would forgive all those who had wronged him. But I felt deep inside me that were he alive today, he would not allow DU30 to kill the Constitution and the court just to get rid of an unwanted Chief Justice.
By May 11, if my information is correct, the justices would declare Sereno’s appointment void ab initio—that she was never Chief Justice. This would raise their dark deed to a more reprehensible height. By such verdict, they would not just be dismissing Sereno’s fitness to hold her post, they would be nullifying the President’s authority and power to make the appointment. Instead of simply asking Sereno, “by what warrant do you sit as Chief Justice?”, they would now ask the appointing power, “by what warrant did you appoint this Chief Justice?”
I cannot imagine the logical or legal consequences. But since only the President’s angry command matters, law and logic are of no consequence. A completely unconstitutional order will be instituted. Every citizen would recognize this, and we should be terribly frightened, but not a bit surprised, if people began taking the law into their own hands, and treating our SC magistrates as mere politicians, if not criminals. Contempt for authority could be generalized.
Given the state of law and justice at play, some of the 1,724 who passed the recent bar examinations might opt not to take their oath as lawyers. And some universities may want to shut down their law schools.
Sandstorm in Kuwait
After Kuwaiti Ambassador Musaed Saleh Altwaikh met with DU30 in Davao over a week ago, we thought the misunderstanding concerning certain domestic workers issues had been ironed out. DU30 had been spewing venom against Kuwait after the body of Joanna Demafelis was found inside a freezer in a warehouse after she had gone missing for two years. Her former employers, a Lebanese and Syrian couple, immediately fled to Lebanon and Syria, where they were subsequently arrested with the help of Interpol.
Using this incident, DU30 suspended the deployment of OFWs to Kuwait and criticized Kuwait for allegedly failing to protect its OFWs. Kuwait tried to compel Lebanon and Syria to surrender the fugitive couple to its court, but without an extradition treaty, the court could only try the couple for murder and sentence them to death in absentia. The situation began to improve, until the Philippine embassy staff began to enter private homes “to rescue” OFWs allegedly being abused by their employers. This was beyond the authority of any foreign embassy anywhere.
It appears that when the Arab ambassador went to Davao, the Kuwaiti authorities had not yet seen the full video taken by the Filipino staff of their own “rescue operation” where they tried to extract from their employers allegedly abused Filipino domestics, without the knowledge or participation of the police. DU30 and Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano apologized for the behavior of their diplomats and the ambassador accepted the apology in good faith.
To everyone’s surprise, the next reports showed Philippine Ambassador Renato Villa being expelled from Kuwait. Villa, a career diplomat, knew the limits of what a foreign diplomat can do outside his official car, embassy and residence. He obviously knew he could not just enter any private home to extricate a countrywoman allegedly in distress. But why did he do it? Some DFA sources suspect Villa must have been so traumatized by DU30’s rant against Kuwait and the embassy personnel for allegedly not doing enough for the OFWs that he was driven to excess. He wanted DU30 to know he was doing everything he could, and he made sure it was all on YouTube.
Failure at Mischief Reef
DU30 has long declared he would go to war against “any party” (except China) in defense of the nation’s territory which he’s willing to defend. Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano reminded me of this on my GNN cable TV program on Sunday night. In Singapore, DU30 repeated the statement— he would go to war against anybody over Benham Rise (recently renamed Philippine Rise). But not even China is claiming it.
But would he go to war over the chain of islands, islets, reefs and shoals within the Philippines’ 200-mile EEZ, which was the subject of a Permanent Court of Abitration ruling on July 12, 2016, which upheld the Philippines’ sovereign rights over these sea areas, and declared that China’s claim of the same areas under its so-called “nine-dash line” had no legal basis? He set aside that ruling, and allowed China to reclaim and fortify those features as though they were its own.
Last week, two Chinese military transport planes were photographed on Mischief Reef. Many thought it was a dangerous provocation, and expected DU30 to order an immediate political and military response. Accordingly, the Department of Foreign Affairs said it was thinking of doing something about it. But apparently it needed some time to consult the Chinese Embassy whether or not a diplomatic protest should be filed, and if so, how it should be worded. So, nothing has come out of the DFA, as I write.
Malacañang was quicker with its military response, but missed its target by a few thousand nautical miles. Having no air force jets to scramble, Malacañang dispatched a couple of pre-owned vessels (from the US), while making sure they would not be detected by the Chinese on the Reef. They dropped anchor off Boracay instead, the world-famous island resort, which DU30 had earlier declared a cesspool, and ordered shut down for tourists from April 26 until October 25, 2018.
So DU30 is now on “war footing” on this island, where our naval patrol has joined over 1,000 army, navy, coast guard, special action force police commandos and local security personnel in protecting the empty beaches against the possible invasion of fecal coliform, untreated waste water and water-borne fungus. And the Chinese can continue to militarize Mischief and the rest of the seven reefs.
Unstoppable human rights
PNP Chief Bato de la Rosa has retired. But the drug killings have not stopped. On the day Director General Oscar Albayalde took office, 13 alleged drug suspects were reported killed. Because alleged drug suspects are killed without documentation or due process, there is no agreed count of the number of killed suspects. DU30’s apologists try to bring it down to a couple of thousands only while human rights groups who make their own count claim it is as high as 20,000.
The numbers did not seem to disturb DU30 at all until Mindanao lawyer Jude Josue Sabio filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court at the Hague in May 2017 accusing DU30 and the “Davao Death Squad” of “crimes against humanity.” Then denials began and DU30 began to curse all those who showed an interest in the killings more intensely. These included US President Barack Obama, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg, UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, unnamed leaders of the European Union, etc.
Without any fanfare, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda commenced her “examination” into Sabio’s “communication” in February 2018. It was not yet an “investigation,” no one has been indicted, the court has not assumed jurisdiction, she said. But on March 14, 2018, in a rare show of courage, DU30 announced the withdrawal of the Philippines from the Rome Statute on the ICC, becoming the first state party to pull out after Burundi.
The withdrawal takes effect on March 14, 2019. Until then, Bensouda could continue her “investigation,” and if there is any basis, indict DU30 for crimes against humanity. Apparently affected by all this, DU30 has threatened to arrest Callamard and Bensouda, banned the entry of Giacomo Filibeck of the Party of European Socialists, and ordered the arrest and deportation of Sister Patricia Fox, the 71-year-old Australian nun, for being a political threat to the country.
Ironically, his last big scandal before he became president involved a statement about the 1989 gang rape and murder of a young Australian missionary during a prison riot in Davao when he was still mayor of the city. She was so beautiful, he said, that he felt the mayor should have been first to take part in the gang rape. He survived that incident without much difficulty; will he be as lucky in the case of the much older Australian missionary? [email protected] / The Manila Times / ON