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This fight is for judicial independence – Sereno

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By Rey G. Panaligan

HITTING BACK – Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, shown talking with Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio at the Philippine Women Judges Association national convention in Manila Hotel Thursday, has criticized the House Committee on Justice for not giving her the chance to face her accusers. (Kevin Tristan Espiritu)

HITTING BACK – Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, shown talking with Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio at the Philippine Women Judges Association national convention in Manila Hotel Thursday, has criticized the House Committee on Justice for not giving her the chance to face her accusers. (Kevin Tristan Espiritu)

A portion of the reported “spirited” arguments during the full court session late last month that led to the indefinite leave of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno starting March 1 was witnessed live at the Manila Hotel Thursday morning during the convention of the Philippine Women Judges Association (PWJA).

Speaking before members of the PWJA, Sereno slammed the members of the House Committee on Justice for not giving her the chance to face her accusers in the impeachment complaints filed against her.

“…the House Committee on Justice has denied me my right to confront and cross-examine the witnesses and resource persons arrayed against me…,” she said.

Sereno also said: “We must denounce gossiping and unfounded innuendos and try our best to preserve our dignity as members of the Judiciary. And, true to our oath as judges, we do not judge anyone until all the evidence is in.”

“I look at any forum to try me other than the constitutionally exclusive form of impeachment as an admission by the complainant and my other detractors that after 15 hearings, they have failed to come up with any evidence which I can be convicted in the Senate,” she added.

Some judges attending the convention believed that Sereno was referring to the petition for quo warranto filed before the Supreme Court (SC) by Solicitor General Jose C. Calida, who wants the High Court to nullify her 2012 appointment as chief justice and to unseat her thereafter.

After Sereno’s speech and even before she could return to her seat, SC Justice Teresita J. Leonardo de Castro, PWJA president and perceived to be one of the staunch critics of the chief justice, stood and said:

“I sincerely hope that she (Sereno) should not have dealt with a matter that is pending with the court.”

De Castro, in effect, said that since a quo warranto case is pending with the SC, any discussion on the issue “is subjudice.”

There was silence in the packed Centennial Hall of the Manila Hotel where, earlier, convention participants and guests had applauded the wits and jokes of Manila City Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada on his welcome address.

Subjudice is “is a legal principle which means that a certain matter is under judicial or court consideration which result or consequence is still undetermined and, therefore, may not be an appropriate subject to comment on publicly….”

Sources said convention organizers have requested Sereno not to discuss her impeachment case in her speech. This could not be ascertained.

Aside from De Castro, also present during the convention were acting Chief Justice Antonio T. Carpio, Justice Estela B. Perlas Bernabe as PWJA executive vice president, and Justices Presbitero J. Velasco Jr., Diosdado M. Peralta, Mariano C. de Castillo, Samuel P. Martirez, Noel G. Tijam, Andres B. Reyes Jr. and Alexander G. Gesmundo.  Justice Francis H. Jardeleza arrived after Sereno’s speech.

Also present was SC Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez.

The salient portions of Sereno’s speech:

“Allow me to build on two values which I have been expounding on in my earlier speeches that many women judges confide to me as edifying and uplifting: Judicial Independence and Courage.

“In several of my previous speeches, I had repeated my promise to all of you that I will not ask you to lift a burden that I myself am not willing to carry; I will not ask you for sacrificial service unless I myself am willing to sacrifice on a daily basis so that our people, through all of our combined efforts, will see justice come fully alive.

“I have had different occasions to talk about our common dreams of demonstrating to our people that it is possible to have a generation of men and women, who have dedicated themselves to becoming the epitome of the Good Judge, embodying in their beings the most excellent qualities of our people.

“And I pounded on the necessity of making the political branches understand that for that to happen, they must respect our independence and that we must defend that independence with all the strength of our convictions.

“Judicial Independence will not come to us on a silver platter. It must be fought for, fiercely if need be, but always with the advantage that comes from occupying a high moral plane. For the Judiciary to occupy a high moral plane, every judge must call to her mind the noblest thoughts and the best intentions, and allow them to animate every one of her actions.

“When beset with malicious allegations, the Good Judge replies with truth. When harassed, the Good Judge maintains her composure. When pressed to yield to evil, the Good Judge says, ‘No, I will not.’ Always and always the Good Judge fights for every space that evil tries to claim, all with the faith that in the end, good will triumph, and all evil will have to end.

“And I ask you to look at our fellowship and where it has brought us. I ask that we dispel all thoughts and impulses of malice and ill will for they serve no good purpose and bring nothing but shame. We must denounce gossiping and unfounded innuendos and try our best to preserve our dignity as members of the Judiciary. And, true to our oath as judges, we do not judge anyone until all the evidence is in.

“That is why I must fight to have my day at the Senate impeachment court. This fight is a fight for Judicial independence, for the right of every member of the Court to confront her accuser face to face in a trial type proceeding. Where all allegations can be challenged, and all lies can be unmasked.

“The oath I have taken is to protect the Constitution, the independence of the Judiciary and to take a stand for every judge whose freedom of conscience I have consistently done my best to defend. All kinds of lies, threats, harassment and bullying have been thrown my way. But I will not yield.

“Let me tell you why I fight and why I must continue to fight. My life is not freely given me to indulge myself in selfish pursuits. My life is required to be given for the service of others, for the service of my country. And until that call to service is ended, I cannot yield.”

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