MANILA, Philippines – Kamuning Bakery, probably Manila’s oldest artisanal bakery, had an unusual guest on Monday afternoon as it celebrated “World Pandesal Day.”
In jeans and dark cyan polo, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno stepped out of a black vehicle and crossed the street to make her way into the extension café, which hosts a weekly forum of political and business personalities.
Wilson Lee Flores, the journalist and Philippine Star columnist who owns the heritage bakeshop, had big guests earlier in the day, including Vice President Leni Robredo and Philippine National Police Chief Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa. But he was just too glad to cap the day with the homegrown magistrate, whom he said accepted the invitation after several tries.
Sereno’s visit in Kamuning was a trip down memory lane in the place where she grew up, schooled and stayed for 27 years. But as she reminisced her childhood exploits of playing “syato,” lining up for the free nutribun and milk, and wading though flood water, the Chief Justice also offered thoughtful words about justice, and being upright and fairness.
Sereno is facing an impeachment complaint at the House of Representatives for allegations such as corruption and violation of the Constitution. She has formed a battery of lawyers who will defend her in the impeachment proceedings. She had repeatedly said she would not be sidelined by the “baseless” claims.
The 57-year-old magistrate was appointed on August 16, 2010 as the 169th Justice and on August 24, 2012 as the 24th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Born on July 2, 1960, she is the youngest to be so appointed to the SC in this century. She may also be one of the longest-serving ever, as she is to mandatorily retire in 2030 after serving a 20-year term.
Justice, like pandesal, vital
Before her former classmates, teachers and neighbors, she said justice is just as essential to the Filipinos as pandesal, their staple bread.
“The poor [are] really sensitive to injustice. It is injustice that hits the poorest the most. . . .so I was thinking, if bread was so important to people, the need for bread is a heartfelt need, what more justice,” she said.
In her many years as a practicing lawyer, she said she saw situations when of “constant unfairness” and abuse of power (inaabuso ang kapangyarihan).
“I’ve seen iyong mahirap na dinadampot na lang dahil napagbintangan, binugbog, at makapagbigay ng pangalan ng kapitbahay, at iyong kapitbahay dinampot, presented sa media at sasabihin case solved,” she said.
“But for every injustice done to a breadwinner in a poor family, you destroy five lives,” she said.
Sereno continued, “Iyong tao, nagtatrabaho araw-araw, tinanggalan mo ng dignidad, binugbog mo, kinulong, at sinabi mong siya ang maysala ng walang imbestigasyon. Mawawalan siya ng hanapbuhay. Iyong asawa niya na naghahanap sa kanya, masisira rin ang buhay kasi imbes na namamasukan, mapa-fire siya . . . ang mga anak nila, hindi na makakapasok sa school. [If someone toils each day and you deprive him of dignity, beat him up and jail him and tag him a criminal without an investigation…He loses a livelihood. The spouse who looks out for him will also not be able to work and may lose her job…their children cannot go to school]. People will start thinking dark thoughts.”
“We are all aware of the problem of injustice. . . .Justice must come fully alive, dapat maramdaman nila,” she said.
Addressing her friends from Kamuning, she said, “Huwag kayong matakot, ‘wag mangamba, kung walang kasalanan, malinis ang inyong konsensya, tuloy lang ang trabaho, tuloy ang reporma. Ang pang-araw-araw na challenges ating harapin ng may katatagan, kasi ang dami na nating pinagdaanan bilang komunidad.”
[Don’t be scared, if you have done no wrong and your conscience is clean; the work goes on, so with the reforms. Let’s face the daily challenges with fortitude; anyway, we have gone through so much as a community].
Asked about the greatest crisis she faced, she said that while life is not always smooth sailing, she has always kept faith in God and maintained a clean conscience.
“Kung malinis ang konsensya niyo at humahawak kayo sa Panginoon, iyan lang po ang importante sa buhay natin [If your conscience is clean and you have faith in God, that’s all that matters],” she said.
Before her trip to the Kamuning Bakery, she spoke before a gathering of local judges last week and told them to “stay true to their oath.”
One of her spokespersons, lawyer Winnie Salumbides, said Sereno’s public appearances had nothing to do with the impeachment complaint.
“She’s been going around even before the impeachment, they had the justice caravan, and when she spoke before the judges, she said she wants them to zone out of politics,” he said.
Salumbides said Sereno’s visit in Kamuning “shows the Chief Justice is rooted, grounded to her very simple upbringing.”
Norma Bornay, 74, one of her teachers, said that while “Lourdes” was one of the smallest in class, she stood out as one of the most academically excellent and was very active in extracurricular activities.
“Bagamat si Lourdes ay maliit at madalas nakakantyawan, pero ganunpaman, pagdating sa extracurricular at academics, d’yan bumabawi si Lourdes [Lourdes may have been small and was often ribbed about it, but when it came to academics and extracurricular achievements, she made up for it],” she said.