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[EDITORIAL] Disarray and disunity

Disarray and disunity

 / 05:32 AM March 15, 2018

There’s a simple but profound reason why justice is portrayed as a blindfolded woman holding up a pair of scales. The blindfold is meant to shield judges from the chaos of conflicting views, biases and opinions that could color their ruling on the case before them.

The current disarray and disunity in the judiciary illustrate exactly what happens when outside forces, especially politics, are allowed to intrude into its sacrosanct chambers.

On Monday, judges and court employees all over the country wore red and read a statement calling on Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to make the “supreme sacrifice” of resigning to “spare the Supreme Court” from the distracting spectacle of an impeachment trial.

The Chief Justice, who was compelled by her fellow justices to go on indefinite leave, has been the subject of impeachment hearings at the House of Representatives since last year. She is accused of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust for, among others, failure to file her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth, tax evasion, and administrative lapses. Her camp maintains that these supposed offenses are not grounds for impeachment.

A quo warranto petition questioning Sereno’s qualification for the post has also been filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida, and now awaits the justices’ decision as to its merit.

Sereno described such “gimmicks” as an indication that the case against her is weak. But former chief justice Hilario Davide Jr. was more forthright: The “Red Monday” protests, he said, was a case of “condemning without evidence, a resort to the rule of men … that openly disregards due process.”

“If there is anything that will destroy the faith of our people in the judiciary, it is the perception that judges themselves are unwilling to await the results of a constitutional proceeding or a statutory process,” Davide said.

His concern seems well-founded. Reports from the provinces and other sources indicate that the court employees were duped into wearing red as “a sign of unity.”

“We were deceived,” said an employee from the Mandaue City Hall of Justice. A text message received by the employee and others read: “Let’s all wear RED tomorrow, Monday, and attend the flag raising ceremony as a sign of unity in the Supreme Court. Pls. pass.”

Sereno named a “court administrator” as having orchestrated the protests, but earlier, she had gone further and asked on whose order Calida had initiated the quo warranto petition.

But then again, people might ask: Why cling to a post when most of her peers apparently want her out?

Because, as Sen. Antonio Trillanes warned on Sunday, any attempt to remove the Chief Justice other than through impeachment would be unconstitutional and a “brazen usurpation” of Congress’ exclusive power.

Because, as Sereno had repeatedly declared in various forums, this is not her personal battle but a fight for an independent judiciary that is coequal with the executive and legislative branches of government, the better to safeguard the principle of checks and balances.

Resigning “would only serve to erode the independence of the Supreme Court and embolden those who demand a subservient judiciary,” Sereno said. To do so “would invite the kind of extra-constitutional adventurism that treats legal rights and procedures as mere inconveniences that should be set aside when it suits the powers that be.”

Resigning would also amount to her abandoning her fight for the rule of law and for the right of every accused to be heard and to present evidence in their defense, the Chief Justice said, adding: “I do not make choices in life on the basis of what is the easier option, but what is the right thing to do.” She challenged her detractors to elevate the case to the Senate where she could respond to the charges.

But while the House committee on justice has found probable cause to impeach Sereno, some of its members said they were willing to wait for the Supreme Court to act on the quo warranto petition.

Why the wait? one might ask.  If the House were so sure of its case, why delay the process? Let’s get on with it and give Sereno her day in court. It’s the least that she — and anyone accused — deserves.

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