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The fringe "fair trade" movement has just received a mainstream boost with the appointment of Maria Lourdes Aranal-Sereno as the country's first female chief justice.
Unknown to the general public, Sereno and husband Mario Jose Sereno have been waging a policy war on the speed and direction of the country's tariff liberalization rules, with the male Sereno lobbying in behalf of the petrochemical industry and the Federation of Philippine Industries, where he is chairman of the international trade policy committee.
According to congressional records, on August 24, 2011 Mr. Sereno attended a legislative hearing where he urged the House globalization and WTO committee "to review the existing laws on trade and see whether they are synchronized with the trade agreements entered into by the country and the current trade policies of the Aquino administration."
Sereno, who used to work with the DMCI Group corporate planning office, wrote, "The discredited Washington Consensus policy characterized by the idea of 'let the market decide' seems to still prevail in the minds of the bureaucracy."
This, he said, “may have something to do or could be the motivation behind the failure to rectify a martial law aberration on the tariff-setting powers of the President which continues to persist up to this time." Sereno was referring to a legal essay by his wife's former law partner and mentor, retired Justice Florentino Feliciano.
Less than four months later, the female Sereno herself echoed her husband's views in one Supreme Court opinion. "For the longest time, Congress has not made its voice heard on this matter and has simply allowed the President to determine tariff rates by one executive order after another," Justice Sereno wrote on December 6, 2011, when the justices voted en banc to deny the Bureau of Customs Employees Association and uphold the constitutionality of the Attrition Act of 2005.
According to Sereno, the government has created a fiscal contradiction by fostering a "destructive" low-tariff regime while at the same time increasing revenue collection targets for the customs and internal revenue agencies.
"I highlight this contradiction only because it shows how terribly askew certain government actions might have gone, and how the state of ship can possibly start to set aright," she said, before proceeding to quote the tariff-setting power of Congress in the Constitution.
"Congress must revisit this constitutional provision and weigh the question of whether it has wrongly and excessively defaulted on the exercise of this constitutional duty to set tariffs in favor of the President," Justice Sereno said.
She then asked the SC clerk to furnish the Senate and House copies of the court decision and her opinion.
Heard through the grapevine
Despite being an alleged Malacanang ally in the ousting of Renato Corona, then acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio failed to receive any Palace invitation to witness the swearing-in of Ma. Lourdes Sereno as Corona replacement.
And strangely, Justice Mariano del Castillo, who has been another impeachment and plagiarism target of P.Noy allies and Sereno herself, was among the chosen few who were invited to the Saturday event.