Saturday, July 31, 2021

Seares: How SC might cook Sereno’s goose

ON the eve of the Supreme Court en banc session today (Friday, May 11) on whether to evict Ma. Lourdes Sereno from the position of chief justice, two contrasting demonstrations were made:

* Red ribbons were strung, reportedly by SC employees, on walls, fences and gates of the high tribunal, signifying their call for Sereno’s ouster;

* More than 130 law school deans and professors from across the country signed a manifesto titled “A Call for Adherence to the Constitutional Process,” which opposes the use of “quo warranto” complaint by the government against Sereno.

Conflict of interest

How much actually would the opinion of law experts and teachers influence the SC when six or seven justices, who refuse to inhibit themselves, are known to bear ill will against Sereno?

That she would stay as chief justice until 2030, when she’d reach 70, unless sooner removed, is compelling for the justices whose chances of rising to the top are doomed. That she is allegedly high-handed, autocratic and bereft of empathy to the other SC workers lends collateral urgency.

Conflict of interest would be suspected even if the six or seven justices who hate Sereno’s guts insist they’d rise above personal animosity. After a number of them testified in the House impeachment hearing, their claim would sound empty and false.

8 votes ‘assured’

Her goose is cooked, Sereno critics have long been saying. The leak a few days ago was that the eight votes (simple majority) required are “already in the bag.”

What’s only being speculated on is how to package the ruling. With quo warranto being assailed as unconstitutional, how would the SC decide on expulsion with the least noise from the public.

The high tribunal pulled the Marcos burial at the national heroes cemetery and survived. Could they expel Sereno through the dubious shortcut method, preempting her impeachment by the House and trial at the Senate (where 2/3 or 16 votes are required to convict)?

“For the moment’

The SC is highly unlikely to desist from using quo warranto. Like having an ax in its hands and poised over Sereno’s neck: it would be irresistible. As to the massive dissent against quo warranto, the justices might think they are the ones who weigh the scales of justice, not those teaching law and not installed at Padre Faura.

Already talked about as defense against the probable deluge of criticisms is that the ruling wouldn’t be considered as legal precedent. It wouldn’t unlock a floodgate of quo warranto lawsuits. In other words, a verdict only for Sereno’s case, not any other case. What Dan Gatmaytan, a U.P. Diliman constitutional law teacher, calls “pro hac vice” or “for the moment” decision.

Will this work?

Ax her but Sereno only. Next time the ax goes back to storage, not to be used for impeachable officers. That wouldn’t speak well of the sitting justices who might be swayed to that line of argument.

How the high court will decide may show the probity and integrity or lack of it in the Supreme Court. How the nation will react to the ruling may tell what kind of a people we are, if we deserve or not the kind of justice we’ve been getting.


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