CHIEF Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is crying persecution. She is alleging that the independence of the judiciary is in peril after the House justice committee ruled that the impeachment complaint against her was sufficient in form and substance. She is claiming that she was denied due process when the committee also voted to deny her request that her battery of lawyers be allowed to participate in the proceedings for finding probable cause by refusing them the privilege of cross- examining the complainant, as well as the witnesses.
Chief Justice Sereno happens to be the highest-placed lawyer in the country. As chief magistrate, she is first among equals.
So, either she is woefully inept in failing to understand the nature of the House committee proceedings, which is tragic considering her position, or she is feigning ignorance, which in itself could amount to a betrayal of public trust.
One will just have to appreciate the logic of impeachment proceedings to know that since the House acts as the prosecutor, in that it is the one that finds for probable cause, then the House justice committee proceedings are akin to a preliminary investigation. As such, while counsels are allowed to be present to advise their clients, they are not allowed to actively participate, more so to cross-examine witnesses.
The complaint of Sereno and her legal team that she is being denied her legal right to due process, is patently misleading, if not dishonest. The justice committee has invited her to attend, and has even allowed her to cross-examine the complainant, lawyer Larry Gadon. She is not being denied her right to counsel as her coterie of lawyers is not barred from attending the hearings to advise her. They are merely prohibited from cross-examining Gadon and other witnesses.
Sereno also complains that the independence of the judiciary is now threatened. This is another misleading allegation.
There are 15 justices in the Supreme Court. While she is its chief, she cannot in any way claim that she is the Supreme Court. On the contrary, while the court can theoretically be labeled as the Sereno Court, she has repeatedly been in the minority on most major decisions, such as the Marcos burial and the martial law declaration in Mindanao. One may very well ask how her removal could in anyway undermine the independence of a court in which her voice is not that influential.
Furthermore, if impeaching any member, no less than the head, of constitutional bodies such as the Supreme Court, or the Comelec, Civil Service Commission or Commission on Audit should be construed as intruding into their independence, one has to ask why the framers of the Constitution allowed impeachment to be written into our fundamental law. The President is also an impeachable official. Does this mean that any attempt to impeach the President is anathema to our democracy?
Sereno, her lawyers and supporters should be reminded that impeachment is a constitutional process where the people, through their representatives, hold impeachable officials accountable for their actions. Justices in the Supreme Court, including its Chief, perform functions that are important to our democracy. However, they have to perform such duties in a manner that would not betray public trust. Preventing the impeachment of any justice, including the Chief Justice, who has committed offenses that are deemed to constitute an impeachable act simply because such can be construed as an assault on the independence of the judiciary will deny the people the chance to make them accountable for their actions.
Sereno makes it appear that the independence of the judiciary rests on her being free from people’s scrutiny. One has to wonder whether she verbalized such a view when her predecessor, the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, was impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate, on a ground that was less serious than the litany of offenses she is now being accused of.
Sereno accuses President Duterte of being behind her impeachment in order to buttress her claim that her impeachment is an assault on judicial independence. This is odd considering that the court has practically always ruled in favor of the President on key issues on which he publicly declared his preference and where she consistently dissented.
On the contrary, one has to ask Sereno if she even for a minute raised a word of concern about the blatant assault on judicial independence when former President Aquino unabashedly pushed for the ouster of Chief Justice Corona because the latter led his court, over her dissent, to rule on Hacienda Luisita against the Cojuangco-Aquinos. And did Sereno even for a minute reflect on the fact that judicial independence was undermined when she, the most junior member of the court, was chosen to replace Corona? If she were as concerned about judicial independence, then she should have at least exercised restraint and refused the appointment considering that it appeared as blatantly partisan or, worse, looked like a reward for her being the lone vote in favor of the owners of Hacienda Luisita.
Sereno accuses the House of denying her due process just because her lawyers were denied the privilege of cross-examining her accuser and other witnesses. One has to ask her if she ever condemned the previous House when it never gave Chief Justice Corona the privilege of a committee hearing. One has to ask her if she ever protested at the blatant disregard of rules on confidentiality of bank deposits, or when Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales committed a mathematical atrocity against Corona by adding up the withdrawals and deposits in his dollar accounts, and coming up with a colossal and fake total. One has to ask her if she condemned the reported release of DAP funds to the senators who voted to convict Corona.
For someone who remained silent and who personally benefited from Aquino’s assault on judicial independence, and on the denial of Chief Justice Corona the due process of a House hearing to find for probable cause, or of a fair Senate trial, Chief Justice Sereno complains too much.