The Dengvaxia fiasco and the onslaught of tropical storm Urduja in the Visayas have buried another important news with equally high relevance – the impeachment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. The public tends to ignore the issue maybe because of the legalese involved that may not easily be understood by common people.
Another reason could be is that the dispute in the judiciary may not be as juicy and colorful as the rivalry between “Dutertards” and “Yellowtards,” and no catfight or fireworks were seen in the exchange of charges and accusations between the accusers and the accused.
But what is the basis for the attempt to oust Sereno from her position? So far, five officials from the Supreme Court have appeared before the House Committee on Justice to expound on the administrative issues hurled against her. They are Associate Justices Francis Jardeleza, Noel Tijam and Teresita de Castro, former Associate Justice Arturo Brion, and Court Administrator Midas Marquez.
Marquez complained that Sereno didn’t act on the applications for survivorship benefits of retired justices and judges that had been pending for two years, and that she only approved those after the matter was mentioned in the impeachment complaint. He also bewailed that the chief justice removed from his jurisdiction the Regional Court Administrator’s Office.
Another issue involved the request of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II to transfer the Maute cases outside of Mindanao. Not only did Sereno reject that request, she didn’t submit it to the High Court en banc for decision, thereby ignoring the SC’s nature as a collegial, consultative, deliberative and participatory body, it was alleged.
As for Justice Brion, he accused Sereno of blocking his nomination to his current post in 2004. Not only did she use a “top secret document” on Brion’s mishandling of the arbitral case of the West Philippine Sea when he was solicitor general, she also manipulated the nomination process by invoking the unanimity rule, it was further alleged.
Most analysts noted that the mentioned accusations involved internal disputes that should be settled at best among the justices themselves. On the surface, it would seem that the issues against Sereno have no impact on the people and the nation and are thus not sufficient grounds for impeachment,.
But the fact that a number of associate justices and court officials have come forward to air their grievances on Sereno’s leadership shows that the High Court has been weakened by the fractures caused by her mismanagement and penchant to act on herself without consulting other justices.
More than that, in her five years as chief justice, Sereno has not exhibited any urgency to act on judicial reform that would have addressed the long lamented slow pace of justice being dispensed by the courts. “Justice delayed is justice denied” is a legal maxim that has been ignored and forgotten.
Sereno held much promise when she was appointed in August 2012 at age 52. As the second youngest chief justice, she could be one of the longest-serving head of the Supreme Court if she manages to hold on to her position until her mandatory retirement in 2030.
She could have utilized that relatively young age to push for reforms that would speed up trials and unclog court dockets. One proposal is the introduction of the American style jury system that could potentially expedite the resolution of criminal cases. Other suggestions are the hiring of more judges and making the courts highly computerized – game-changing innovations that haven’t taken off the ground.
For that, Sereno failed to live up to the people’s high expectations on her young age and vast experience. The Filipinos deserve better in the person of a new chief justice that would take the Supreme Court to the 21st century. Someone who would make judicial reform a top priority.
But an impeachment is a lengthy and exhaustive process which the Filipinos cannot afford to go through. For that reason, Sereno should make the ultimate sacrifice for her career, and spare herself and her family the embarrassment of undergoing public ridicule. It’s time for her to voluntarily step down and give way to someone who could do a better job.