By Leandro DD Coronel
Eight Supreme Court associate justices handed Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s head on a silver platter to her adversaries. They made it so easy, it was like taking candy from a baby.
Sereno became a target when she insisted, rightly, to be independent from the Duterte bandwagon. It didn’t take long for Duterte operatives to go after Sereno.
First, they tried impeachment. But the eager-beaver lawyer who took it upon himself to catch Sereno as bounty was stumbling all over the place. At the hearings in the House of Representatives, he clumsily tried to make his case like a second-rate lawyer with charges that were half-baked.
If the situation were reversed and Sereno had been in the good graces of the administration, the impeachment complaint would have been thrown out by the House committee in a heartbeat. They had done it before when Rep. Gary Alejano filed an impeachment complaint against President Duterte.
Actually, Sereno had been just a mild, if at all, critic of Duterte. She was just standing up for the judiciary. But Duterte would brook not even the mildest dissent. His enforcers knew what to do.
The impeachment complaint languished in Congress, trapped in a cul de sac. Sereno’s antagonists couldn’t quite find an air-tight case against her. (Duterte couldn’t just fire her because she held a Constitutional position and the only way to oust her was through an impeachment.)
And then they thought of quo warranto, which is designed to weed out unqualified public officials.
But there’s a catch. A quo warranto case can only be filed within one year of the subject public official’s assumption of office. Sereno had been chief justice since 2012.
Here is where eight associate justices of the Supreme Court would become useful. According to five of them who attended the House hearings, Sereno hadn’t been an ideal boss. She was blind to their intra-office grievances, sat on their pleas and sundry requests. They brought up what normally would be minor gripes. The associate justice behaved like schoolchildren complaining to the principal about their school mistress’ supposed tyranny.
At that point impeachment looked dead in the water. Pro-impeachment forces had all but given up.
And then came quo warranto. The solicitor general filed a complaint. Legal experts were practically unanimous that quo warranto couldn’t be applied in Sereno’s case. And that impeachment was the only way.
In my naivete I was hoping up to the last minute that the high court would vote non-jurisdiction, meaning that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction over the case and thus let the House impeach Sereno and the Senate pass judgment.
I had hoped that the justices would suppress personal pettiness and recklessness and take the misguided act of voting on quo warranto when the law was clear about its proper use.
My idealism and trust in supposedly learned men and women turned out to be misplaced. Eight justices voted to oust Sereno and six voted in her favor.
What a serendipitous outcome for anti-Sereno forces, they got handed Sereno’s head on a platter. From her own colleagues at that.
Sereno had no chance whatsoever.
Tantrum Ergo. Will the eight Supreme Court justices who voted to oust Sereno be able to sleep soundly from now on?