By Leandro DD Coronel
The House of Representatives is about to put the Senate in a big bind. Congressmen are expected to drop a weak impeachment case on the senators’ laps.
After 15 hearings, the House has finally voted in committee to impeach Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. Unfortunately, the impeachment complaints are so weak that, in my opinion, they don’t rise to the level of conviction. I wouldn’t blame the senators if they’re sore at the congressmen for putting them in an awkward situation.
The chief justice is accused of being a lousy manager, inattentive to her colleagues’ internal grievances, delaying spouse benefits of judges’ widows, buying a luxury car, and belatedly, not submitting her statement of assets and liabilities when she was a professor at the University of the Philippines.
The Constitution lists the following as impeachable offenses: culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, and other high crimes or betrayal of public trust.
A comparison of the last two paragraphs proves the charges against the chief justice don’t even come close to being impeachable.
So, is the chief justice safe and free to go back to her job?
Maybe so in many other parts of the world but not in the Philippines. Ours is an extremely political society and our politics are extremely dirty. As in vindictive and mean-spirited.
Sereno has incurred the enmity of the ruling power for being too independent, as she should be, being head of a co-equal branch of government. And that, in the current political environment in the country, could be fatal.
But how can she be found guilty with weak charges? That’s the quandary of the senators.
If Sereno’s enemies insist on extreme prejudice to be imposed against her, can they do it? The can force it if they want to.
But at a high cost to the senators’ individual reputations. A guilty verdict in the face of an obviously weak case could spell disaster for some senators when they go up for reelection. They’re also risking public indignation.
So, will they take the risk? The answer depends on how much the ruling power wants a Sereno conviction.
At this writing, the presidential palace is reported to be washing its hands off a Sereno conviction order. That indicates vacillation, a fear that a conviction could trigger public disenchantment and even unrest. That’s why this early the ruling power is distancing itself from the concerted effort to get Sereno.
Sereno can sense that. And, coupled with her belief in her innocence, she’s calling her enemies’ bluff. Bring it on, she dares them.
The bottom line is that the get-Sereno camp can force the issue if they really want to get rid of her. But are they ready for the possible consequences?
Tantrum Ergo. I’ve often written in this space that in Western countries they consider demagogic ranters like Fidel Castro, Muammar Khaddafy and, yes, Rodrigo Duterte and Donald Trump, as mad men. Latest proof: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein recently said Mr. Duterte needs to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.