MEL STA. MARIA | Why HoR should throw out Sereno impeachment case

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Maria Lourdes Sereno
Philstar file photograph

Atty. Mel Sta. Maria is the Dean of the Far Eastern University Institute of Law.

I have written previously that the impeachment case against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is just a waste of taxpayers’ money. Essentially, I think the charges against her are either based on hearsay, exaggerations, or downright ridiculous. They do not rise to the level of constitutional impeachable offenses. I can only foresee that the coming proceeding might just be an occasion for grandstanding by media-craving legislators.

And so, prescinding from the merits, or, more appropriately, the flimsiness of the case, I say again why the House of Representatives should dismiss this impeachment case immediately.

And the reason is, for the members to redeem the House’s prestige and honor for the sake of the nation.

This can be easily explained.

First. This is the opportune time for the House to debunk its “unthinking-image”. Remember the defunding to P1,000 for the Commission on Human Rights? It was so outrageous that many people seriously wondered whether those who voted for it really had the interest of the country in mind. The budget’s restoration to a respectable level did not help change such obnoxious image. Instead, it even highlighted the impression that they are as ambivalent and as senseless as ever.

Second. Dismissing the impeachment will prove that the members of the House of Representatives are not lackeys of Malacañang. Like it or not, true or not, many believe that, while President Duterte has verbally declared his hands-off policy in the impeachment, he still is the conductor orchestrating the whole process. And the House of Representatives is just a rubber stamp of his whims and caprice. This may be an unjustified perception, but the way many of the lawmakers treated the case against Senator De Lima or “persecuted” her, whom the President loathed, the kind of enthusiasm they exhibited in trying to fulfill the President’s desire to reimpose the death penalty, and the manner its leadership defended the President’s rants, betray their submissiveness. In fact, the photograph of their Duterte fist-bump pose, made after voting on the P1,000 CHR budget, reminded many netizens of the picture of the legislators in Hitler’s Reichstag making the “Heil Hitler” pose manifesting their complete subservience and idolatrous love for the dictator.

Third. They can prove that those people who ridicule them as “clowns” are wrong. Remember when the House of Representative investigated the million-peso-illegal-drug-dealing inside the National Penitentiary in Muntinlupa? They invited as resource persons imprisoned drug-lords and asked them for recommendations and proposals on how to operate the Bilibid prison free from drugs. It was so off-the-wall seeing on national television public officials, who are supposed to know the law, seeking advice from convicted law-breakers. The sight was embarrassingly demeaning to what ought to be an august body. The spectacle was unbelievable – and, to some, even laughable. Many called it a circus, full of clowns from both sides.

Fourth. That perception that the House is just filled with so many “dirty-old-men” with twisted “macho-mentality” can be corrected. Let us look at the track record. The impeachment case against President Duterte was dismissed. That of Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista was also dismissed. But the case of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, the first woman top-magistrate of the land, prospered to the present investigation for the determination of probable cause. Meanwhile the impeachment case filed against Vice President Leni Robredo is still pending and waiting for endorsers. Also, the investigation of Senator Leila De Lima ended with her eventually landing in jail. And so the score is: two (2) cases involving men – dropped with speed, while three (3) involving women not meeting the same fate. “Ang kaya lang ng kongreso mga babae”, many observed. This smacks of gender bias and insensitivity. And one more impeachment case against a lady, Ombudswoman Conchita Carpio Morales, is reported to be forthcoming. It is not surprising anymore if we consider that, recently, President Duterte declared his intention to create a body to investigate the Office of the Ombudsman as a result of the latter’s amenability to entertain the plunder case against him. The outcome? Your guess is as good as mine. And from the House’s track record, it seems badly portentous for the Ombudswoman.

Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno had been a dissenter in a number of decisions involving positions which the executive-department espoused or where it showed great interest and bias. For example, she disagreed in placing the whole Mindanao under Martial Law and strongly opposed the Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Reading her dissents, they were not motivated by capricious and emotional bias. They were anchored on principled arguments underpinned by the spirit of nationalism and the tenets of the Constitution. She did it scholarly, with grace and civility. This is her asset that the Republic needs: A calm demeanor, deliberative, honest and a level of intelligence and understanding elevating the national discourse of important issues beyond rants, blustering, and bad-mouthing.

More than preserving her position as a highly qualified Chief Justice, she, more than any public-official in leadership position, such as the Senate President or the Speaker of the House, symbolizes the heart of this democracy – check-and-balance.

Ironically, this impeachment case of the Chief Justice may be the classic “shining moment” for the members of the House of Representatives to redeem themselves. Their dismissal of the case will transcendently benefit two great institutions: the Judiciary and the Congress. The legislators’ reputation as “clowns”, lackeys, and an unthinking bunch of media-cravers will be replaced by what the House of Representative ought to be: a national body of deliberative, wise, and fair solons whose true objective is the paramount interest of the nation.

And that paramount interest points to no other direction but the sparing of the Chief Justice of the Republic, representing the other great branch of government – the Judiciary – from depthless accusations.