Seares: Who erred on Sereno: JBC or PNoy?

PSYCHOLOGIST Geraldine Tria testified Tuesday (Feb. 27) before the House committee on justice that she wouldn’t have endorsed Ma. Lourdes Sereno in the list of candidates for Supreme Court chief justice because she scored poorly in the psychological and psychiatric tests.

Sereno was rated “4,” which Dr. Tria calls “marginal,” and the candidate didn’t show “diversified thinking,” which she says the position requires. And Sereno exhibited five of nine symptoms of mental disturbance, the doctor says.

PNoy’s excuse

Whoa! Let’s pause here. Did then president Benigno Aquino III, whom most everyone called PNoy during his term (2010-2016), appoint a probably mentally unhinged SC chief justice in the person of Sereno?

PNoy can say he merely relied on the Judicial & Bar Council (JBC). As he did on Dengvaxia vaccine fiasco, Aquino said he trusted the experts.

He could be on firmer ground in Sereno’s case if he appointed an actual or potential lunatic in Sereno.

Job of bar & council

JBC, a creation of the 1987 Constitution, screens applicants to lead positions in the judiciary and the ombudsman. Its mandate is vast and wide: it must check “competence, integrity, probity and independence of mind, and physical and mental condition” of the candidate. For the last criterion, JBC may require medical records and psychological and psychiatric tests.

It’s supposed to be a thorough process, complete with interviews and background checks on the candidate’s past and current behavior. And the JBC interviews are open to the public.

Sereno did submit to the exams. She was weighed and found wanting, at least by one psychologist who told the House committee she was was unfit.

Contrary evidence

Sereno may offer contrary opinion to the committee looking into the complaint for impeachment. Her own experts may testify that the five symptoms of mental disturbance found in her also exist among public officials, including lawmakers in Congress. How many high officials are not “grandiose, preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited power or influence, filled with sense of entitlement” and have no empathy with others?

Looks bizarre though that for the past five years and six months (since PNoy appointed Sereno on Aug. 24, 2012), we probably had a “mentally disturbed” person at the SC helm.

Larger hit

Not PNoy’s fault. His choice was limited to the nominees in the JBC list. JBC goofed but could it be sanctioned for that? Nobody has been talking about JBC’s lapses. It could avoid a repetition of the fiasco though.

The seven-member body, where all the branches of government and relevant sectors are represented, didn’t see these shortcomings. Otherwise, Sereno’s alleged unfitness wouldn’t have crowded out her alleged offenses that are grounds for impeachment and trial.

Not among grounds

Which brings up the incongruity: “Unfitness” for the office because of mental ill-health is not a ground for impeachment. It’s not culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery or other high crimes. Mistakes in getting Sereno in are not among the reasons listed to boot her out.

If it’s any solace, the inquiry of impeachment, which should’ve focused on the impeachable crimes, has also laid bare shortcomings in JBC’s vetting process.
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