OP-ED OPINION: Closely watching Sereno and enemies’ next moves Column by Jarius Bondoc

Jarius Bondoc


No, there won’t be constitutional crisis. The unprecedented ouster of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno by her fellow-Supreme Court justices won’t trigger any. The House of Representatives will trash the impeachment rap against Sereno. The Senate will have no reason to cry preemption of its power to try impeachments. Sereno herself accepts defeat, despite a planned appeal for her removers to reconsider. Most of all, the people don’t want constitutional crisis.

But the Sereno affair will continue to be politicized. The dramatis personae closely will be watched. People will await Sereno’s senatorial run next year, as supporters intimate. Questioned integrity for asset non-disclosure, for which she was unseated, will hound her. So will the impeachment items against her, for purchase of a luxury SUV, lavish travel accommodations, costly SC computerization, and imperiousness, among others. Still she will draw sympathy as the woman on whom the three government branches ganged up. If she does have an eye for a legislative seat, she will align herself against President Rodrigo Duterte. She accuses him of masterminding her ouster. Mere electoral preparations will put her in the media limelight. At age 57, Sereno has many political and career options ahead of her. Anti-Duterte forces will view her as a rallying point.

Coming decisions will be scrutinized of the five justices whom Sereno accused of prejudice. Teresita Leonardo de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza, and Noel Tijam had refused to inhibit from the quo warranto case against her. Vehemently for the record they disavow any bias in their majority removal of Sereno. For them it’s just a figment of her imagination. They are also on record as having stood as witnesses against her in the House impeachment investigations. A sixth justice whom Sereno asked to recuse, Samuel Martires, too will be monitored. He invokes having similar religious fervor as her. She saw prejudgment in a question he asked of accuser Solicitor General Jose Calida during the quo warranto oral arguments at the SC. That is, if the latter thought it a mental illness “for a person to invoke God as the source of strength, the source of happiness, the source of everything.” Sereno deemed that as faith-shaming. People will examine if decisions on new political issues will lean towards Duterte. Their studied reasons for booting out Sereno will be lost on her followers.

Future acts too would be watched. Like, would Justice de Castro accept nomination as the next Ombudsman when she retires at age 70 in October? That would open her to criticism of being placed there to watch Duterte’s back. It would be a repeat of the twits about retiring Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, who was appointer President Noynoy Aquino’s favorite “independent SC justice.” A repeat too of former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez’s situation, as law school classmate of appointer President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s husband.

The two other justices who voted against Sereno, Andres Reyes Jr. and Alexander Gesmundo also will be watched. Like Tijam and Martires they are new appointees of Duterte. People believe that a President can stack the Judiciary in his favor. Angered by Sereno’s repeated allusions to him as being behind the impeachment and quo warranto cases, Duterte had declared her his enemy and vowed to do everything to depose her. She had been critical of his bloody war on drugs.

Calida too always will be in the public eye as the quo warranto initiator. People will await if Vice President and opposition leader Leni Robredo is to be his next target for removal, as she fears. He declined to file a quo warranto case against de Castro for similarly incomplete yearly Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth. Will he be appointed to the SC, which he might decline out of delicadeza? Or, will he compete with de Castro to be Ombudsman? Or with Sereno to be senator? Whichever side they’re on in the Sereno affair, lawyers and observers acknowledge that he’s astute. Although aged 67, he still has a lot of fight left in him.

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(The Philippine Star) – May 14, 2018 – 12:00am

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