This is the last of five columns I have devoted to the impeachment charges against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. In the first three columns, I debunked the corruption charges hurled against her. In the last two columns, including this one, my focus is on the charges of Mr. Larry Gadon related to betrayal of public trust. These charges also fail and the House of Representatives should reverse the findings of its Committee on Justice. Otherwise, the lower House and the President, perceived to be behind the impeachment, will be embarrassed when this goes to the Senate.
Other acts of betrayal of public trust which Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno allegedly committed include: reminding justices of the Court of Appeals about the Canon of “Independence; that she attacked the imposition of martial law in her commencement address at the Ateneo de Manila University at the time the imposition of martial law had not yet been decided by the Supreme Court; that she, together with the presiding justice of the Court of Appeals, signed a “joint Statement” on the House of Representatives Show Cause Order against three justices in CA-G.R. No. SP 151029, involving the illegal detention of Ilocos Norte officials; the supposed delay in filling up certain positions in the Court: a) Deputy Clerk of Court and Chief Attorney of the Supreme Court; and two positions of Assistant Court Administrator in the Office of the Court Administrator; and on the supposed appointment by the Court en banc, and not merely the Chairpersons of the three divisions, of the Chief of Office of the PHILJA-PMCO.
On the following issues raised by the complainant, Sereno interposes the following defenses in her Reply:
The Chief Justice asserts that the accusation that she prevented Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals from paying the President courtesy call as a barefaced lie. The fact of the matter, according to her, is that she cannot prevent any member of the judiciary from visiting the President. However, as the Chief Magistrate she can occasionally remind its members of the First Canon of the Code of Conduct—which is independence.
On the supposed attacks against the President’s declaration of martial law during the Ateneo commencement address, Sereno contends that the complainant’s facts are inaccurate. She says that it was not an attack against the declaration of martial law when in fact at the start of her speech she expressly stated that the President had the power to impose martial law. While she alluded to the country’s past experiences during the time of the dictatorship she did not say that these would be relived under President Duterte’s martial law. Most importantly, the commencement speech was an exercise of her right to free speech. It was merely her view on a matter of public interest and history.
On the allegation that the Chief Justice should not have commented on CA-GR. SP No. 151029 since the matter could have been elevated to the High Court in violation of Code of Canon 3 Section 4 which prohibits judges from commenting that might reasonably be expected to affect the outcome of a case, the Chief Justice answers that this canon is inapplicable. The Joint Statement absolutely contained no comment on the case. Neither did it touch on the substance nor on the merits of the subject case. It focuses merely on the unprecedented issues of the House’s issuance of a show cause order against the three justices of the CA.
On the supposed delay in the appointment of certain Court officials, Chief Justice Sereno argues that these appointments are now pending before the Supreme Court en banc and this matter should be resolved internally by the Supreme Court. The truth is that the Court needs to clarify once again how appointments are made in the judiciary, which can be properly delegated to the Chief Justice and to various bodies and which appointments need to be approved by the Supreme Court en banc. In any case, errors that might have been made in these appointments are not impeachable as they do not rise to the seriousness of the grounds enumerated in the Constitution.
As a closing statement in her Reply, Chief Justice Sereno concludes that the impeachment complaint is baseless. Among others, it is not founded on authentic records or personal knowledge but on conflated hearsay. Sereno wonders how this complaint could have been found sufficient in form and substance, pointing out that the impeachment process is not just another arsenal for partisanship but rather a measure of last resort “to protect the state and society against great and dangerous offenses that might reoccur if he (she) is allowed to remain in office.”
What is happening now is that impeachment has been weaponized to suppress dissent. As Chief Justice Sereno observed in a gathering of trial Judges in Palo, Leyte earlier this week, “such political maneuverings can only erode our branch of government in the long term, however gratifying it may be at the moment.” Sereno was also quoted as saying she is not bothered by the impeachment: “I am like this because I know that the truth is on my side. And in a time of constant spin, when narratives are coopted to serve the personal agenda of a few, the truth is our bedrock . . . I have enough faith in the truth to sleep soundly at night; I have enough faith in our people, and in our democratic systems, to know that narratives built on lies will eventually crumble.:
As I have written before, the impeachment of the Chief Justice is not just about an individual and her rights; it is about our country. Sereno ends her reply with a statement of fact and a hope: “In our Congress rests not only the fate of one man (woman), but the integrity of our Constitution and democratic processes.” This I echo with my mind and heart.
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