The impeachment “trial” of Supreme Court Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno is an exercise that is political in nature — because it is a process conducted in and governed by Congress where popularity holds currency (in contrast to trials done in a court of law where standards to ensure logic and reason prevail are higher and more stringent). The logical merits of the case surrounding Sereno are therefore less important. What is important in determining the outcome of this circus is what is popular with the Filipino people.
Thus it is not surprising that Sereno is in the midst of a frantic media blitz. She has made numerous TV appearances and has been interviewed by the Opposition’s crack team of attack-journalists led by the likes of Winnie Monsod and Karen Davila. Nonetheless, what she is up against is an impeachment complaint that was found to be of “sufficient form and substance” by the House of Representatives to progress via due process. Indeed, hers is no different from the same impeachment raps filed against the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona as it involves allegations of lavish lifestyles vis-à-vis revelations of fees she had collected in a previous government role that weren’t declared in her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).
As expected, the media sound bytes Sereno has been fielding have nothing to do with the case itself and are more around appeals to the public’s emotion.
“To tell you the truth, I do not feel as embattled as the news stories may portray me to be,” she said.
“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,” she added.
Sereno reiterated that she has been honest in her work as chief magistrate and believes that the impeachment complaint against her will not succeed.
“Alam kong hindi ako nagsinungaling, hindi ako nandaya, hindi ako nanlamang ng kapwa, at ginawa ko nang tama ang trabaho ko bilang Punong Mahistrado,” Sereno said.
“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,” she added.
True to the spirit of this being a political exercise, Sereno is sounding more and more like a two-bit politician than the highly-trained officer of the law that she is supposed to be. To her credit, she likely already recognises that her impeachment trial will be a popularity contest above all else.
Recent history offers clear lessons about circuses like this after all. Corona’s impeachment trial in 2012 began with a strong pretense that it will be about sound evidence that was gathered legally and evaluated using judiciary-grade standards. As the cliché goes, hindsight is 20-20. We all know today that the trial of Corona was everything but up to the standards of legal procedure as defined by the judiciary. The evidence was weak and gathered illegally and was fed to the media unadulterated by the shovel loads so much so that nobody had a firm grasp of what constituted valid or invalid information used in the proceedings.
The Corona trial by all intents and purposes was no more than a quaint trial-by-media disguised by the legalese robes donned by the “senator judges”. Like the good body of popularly-elected politicians that Congress is, the “senator-judges” who oversaw the Corona trial regarded public chatter around the factoids fed to them by the media as input into their decision-making and treated this as input of equal weight to the evidence produced within the chamber.
Funny, indeed, how the Opposition now criticise the impeachment complaint against Sereno as being merely based on “newspaper clippings”. Back in 2012, the evidence that launched an impeachment complaint against Corona was also based on hearsay “news” published by “investigative journalists” Raissa Robles and Marites Vitug. It is also worth noting that the impeachment complaint against Corona was helped along its journey to endorsement by the House by a “furious” Aquino who “wanted a ‘fast’ impeachment” to happen under his watch.
This is the reality Sereno is facing. The timing of her own impeachment trial mirrors that of Corona’s — transpiring in the first quarter of the president’s term of office and the peak of both presidents’ popularity. Strike while the iron is hot, kung baga. Had Corona been impeached later in former President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III’s term (or any time after Typhoon Yolanda hit in 2013), the outcome would likely have been different; reflective of the dismal popularity ratings of the Aquino administration by then. Same rule-of-thumb applies today. Impeach your enemies while you are at the peak of your popularity.
It’s just politics, really.
And, in a “democracy”, what is popular is what is right. This impeachment trial is not a “threat to democracy” as Sereno asserts it is. It is an embrace of the whole point of popular democracy.
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