Seares: It saved Davide. Can it save Sereno?

CEBUANOS who witnessed the attempt to impeach Hilario Davide Jr. in 2003 can relate to the current assault on Supreme Court chief justice on-leave Ma. Lourdes Sereno. And they can tell why he survived the ordeal and Sereno might not.

Sereno, the first woman chief justice and the youngest (then 52 in 2012) to lead the high tribunal, could serve 12 years more. But the long tenure would be cut short if she would be kicked out by a “quo warranto” case in the Supreme Court or the impeachment trial in the Senate.

Complainants

The prospects of Sereno’s removal six years after she assumed as CJ are high compared to those of Jun Davide (his son the governor is Junjun). By looking at the Davide impeachment, one will know why.

Davide was appointed by president Cory Aquino as SC associate justice in 1991, then by president Joseph Estrada as chief justice in 1998.

Five years later, in June 2003, two years before he was to retire, the same Erap Estrada filed a complaint for impeachment against Davide and seven associate justices for alleged misuse of the Judicial Development Fund. The committee on justice, however, threw it out for “insufficiency in substance.”

Months later, in October, a group of congressmen led by Gilberto Teodoro Jr. and Felix Fuentebella swelled into more than one third of the House and filed a second impeachment complaint.

Davide’s lawyers went to the Supreme Court, which stopped the second impeachment complaint, branding it unconstitutional as the Constitution does not allow more than one impeachment in a year.

Factors for, against

Technicality primarily saved Davide. But there were other factors that one couldn’t see in Sereno’s plight.

[] The president at the time, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, at first kept a distance from the controversy but later rushed to help.

In contrast, President Duterte has tagged Sereno as his enemy and publicly ordered his party’s allies in Congress to speed up her removal.

[] Davide enjoyed public esteem for his reputation an “honest, competent and fair” public official. His generally spotless record in the various government posts he held just did not jibe with the corruption the article of impeachment alleged.

Public trust

While the attack on Sereno focused on her failure to submit a number of SALNs or asset-debt statements and not outright accusation of thievery, she still has to build the vast reservoir of “public trust” that Davide had when he faced his ordeal in the House.

Randy David, writing in an “Inquirer” column at the time, said impeachment is “a matter of public trust.” Not just popularity, which can be superficial, or legality, which can keep one away from jail but may not always confer respect.

Last resort

Impeachment, we are told by constitutional law experts, should be used sparingly, not as a first resort but the last recourse when debate or litigation elsewhere fails.

Not surprisingly though, complainants use it for personal redress. Erap, the former president, had a deep grievance against Davide for swearing in Gloria Arroyo, at the height of Edsa 2, not as “acting president,” as Erap said Jun said he would, but as president. Duterte said he would like his “enemy” Sereno, to be removed speedily.

Woe to the justice, or anyone else facing impeachment, who is targeted by the president and doesn’t have the public support and trust that Davide had.
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