Wenceslao: Damaged court

IF the justice committee of the House of Representatives is in a fishing expedition in the impeachment hearings against Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, then it may have landed a big catch with the testimonies of three associate justices who appeared in the proceedings recently. No, there was nothing to nail Sereno in their testimonies. What was exposed, however, is the partisanship that some associate justices may have embraced, possibly tainting SC rulings.

But first, I say I have often wondered why the High Court early on would allow the burial of the remains of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani and rule to keep Sen. Leila de Lima in jail for drug charges. Those two major decisions seem to signify a drift in the SC majority’s thinking to the right. While judges do decide on cases based on the evidence at hand, at times prejudices and biases become undercurrents in decisions.

What the House justice committee impeachment hearings showed to me is that the SC, like Philippine society at large, is currently a polarized institution, a setup that may have been created by former president Noynoy Aquino’s appointment of Sereno over associate justices senior to her in 2012. That is what I could sense in the testimonies of Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Noel Tijam and Francis Jardeleza and retired associate justice Arturo Brion.

That they attended the hearings in the first place was initially surprising considering that the Sereno impeachment case has been pictured as an assault on the integrity of the judiciary, a branch of government supposedly independent from the executive and the legislative branches. But as the justices answered questions from the House justice committee members, my surprise vanished. All of them rolled out what obviously were previously hidden resentments against Sereno.

The said justices knew that what they testified to against Sereno don’t rise to the level of impeachable offenses. At most, these were organizational matters that were either already resolved by the SC internally or could be resolved by the court internally. Yet they obviously saw the impeachment hearings as a chance to hit back at Sereno. Those justices showed that being appointed to the highest court of the land does not necessarily make them epitomes of objectivity and sobriety.

Which brings me to Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who may or may not attend the impeachment hearing next week. Carpio was the most senior among the SC justices when Sereno was appointed chief justice, meaning that he was among those bypassed. Observers had actually thought Carpio would be it, so Sereno’s appointment must have hurt him much. He did exhibit some resentments early on. But he seemed to have moved on after that, which shows a high level of maturity.

Carpio since then have come up with decisions or opinions that exhibited objectivity. In fact, in many recent SC decisions, he and Sereno were on the same side. I think that could not be said of the other associate justices. That, for me, explains the SC rulings on Marcos’s burial and de Lima’s continued jailing.
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