When there are so many pressing issues to write about, it gets so confusing sorting out which one to prioritise. There’s the issue about the controversial dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, there’s this issue about China’s continuing military construction on the disputed islands along the South China Sea (or “West Philippine Sea”) and there is also this issue about Joma Sison – founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines instructing his soldiers to carry out attacks against military soldiers. Those, among other things, are very important, but there is one issue I realise is very vital to the health of the country’s democracy. It will affect the outcome of all the issues I mentioned if not corrected. That issue involves the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Maria Lourdes Sereno.
Let me get straight to the point. Sereno should not be in her position. We all know that Sereno was appointed by former President Benigno Simeon Aquino III after the latter had the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona removed. We all know that the senator-judges who acted like they had such high standards during Corona’s trial found a way to vote “guilty” after highlighting Corona omitted some of his savings – an offence the law allows to correct – from his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).
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Fast-forward to today, it has been revealed that Sereno, Corona’s replacement, did not even file her SALN for years. Officials of the University of the Philippines (UP) claimed that except for 2002, they do not have copies of Sereno’s SALN from 2001-2009. The Office of the Ombudsman also certified that Sereno did not submit her SALN in 1999, 2007 and 2009. These are all consistent with the Judicial Bar Council’s (JBC) claim that she did not submit her SALN in 1999 to 2007.
Where are the same moral crusaders who loudly expressed their outrage during Corona’s trial? Why are they so quiet about Sereno? Sereno has clearly violated the law. She should not have been nominated for Chief Justice to begin with considering Corona’s so-called offense had to do with his SALN. Her SALN should have been the first thing the Judicial Bar Council looked at since it was a hot topic back then. It seems everyone including the members of the JBC turned a blind eye to her grave sin. Were they too afraid to bring up the matter because BS Aquino was too powerful and too vindictive to say no to? Why did they do a short-cut on the process of picking the Chief Justice at a time when the standard for choosing someone for the top job was supposedly higher? They have to answer these questions.
It’s no secret that Sereno is a close friend of BS Aquino. He filled up a post at the Supreme Court that he made sure was vacated with his college friend who is also a member of a law firm retained by Hacienda Luisita Inc., his family’s estate. Having been a corporate lawyer for most of her career, Sereno did not even have any experience handling criminal cases in the past. That fact didn’t stop the President from assigning her to the Supreme Court to handle criminal cases. That certainly did not make the other justices happy. Even during her early days at the Supreme Court, there were already allegations of impropriety. While Corona brought unity in the Supreme Court during his stint, Sereno has caused division among the members of the Supreme Court particularly with some associate judges alleging that she issued a fake resolution without their knowledge. What kind of “reform” did President BS Aquino expect to happen in the judiciary with an allegedly fraudulent Chief Justice like Sereno at its helm?
While Sereno is facing impeachment charges for various reasons and a lot of the Supreme Court justices have actually testified against her shenanigans, they just make the case against her all the more valid. But the most solid point against Sereno is her non-compliance with the law, which should be enough for the people to demand her removal from office. To be specific:
Art. XI Sec. 17 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution
“A public officer or employee shall, upon assumption of office and as often thereafter as may be required by law, submit a declaration under oath of his assets, liabilities, and net worth.
“In the case of the President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Cabinet, the Congress, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Commissions and other constitutional offices, and officers of the armed forces with general or flag rank, the declaration shall be disclosed to the public in the manner provided by law.”
Why is it important for Sereno, the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, to follow the law? The Chief Justice should set a higher standard for herself compared to everybody else because she is supposed to show the rest of the public that following the law is what creates a better society. The law should be the one thing that binds Filipinos together. We may differ in views, but the law is what levels the field. The law should not discriminate against or be in favour of anyone and the Chief Justice, of all people, should uphold the law. No one should be above the law, not even Sereno.
We have all these Senate hearings and investigations going on about Dengvaxia, the alleged election fraud during the 2016 Presidential Elections, corruption in Bureau of Customs, and debates about fake news, China, etcetera. Unfortunately, all roads lead to the judiciary. What good would all these investigations amount to when we have a corrupt justice system headed by Chief Justice Sereno who breaks the law herself? Not much will come out of them. The people who should be accountable will just move on and laugh all the way to the bank.
Filipinos already suffer from a lack of trust. We have trust issues. We don’t trust the police. We don’t trust the public servants. The lack of trust stems from Filipinos in general not following the law. In the Philippines, those who are well-connected get off easily. Notice how public servants like BS Aquino are still not in jail despite evidence of all the criminal negligence committed during his term on exhibit? That’s because he has allies in Congress, the judiciary and many other government agencies. When people see someone like BS Aquino get away with his crimes, they lose trust in the justice system. When people lose trust in the justice system, they lose all hope in Philippine society and abandon it. It is no surprise that there are Filipinos who do not have love of country. It’s the same reason why ordinary Filipinos break the law even in the little things like traffic rules and littering.
The rule of law is very important. Unfortunately, it is a simple concept that is not so easy for a lot of Filipinos, which includes the lawmakers and apparently, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court herself, to understand. This is why it is hard for the Philippines to move forward.
In life, things are not always what they seem.