“We may have diverged on the means but we have one goal, to bring about social justice so Filipinos can feel the benefits of democracy.”
MANILA – Embattled Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno radiated optimism when she joined hundreds of members of various groups in an Araw ng Kagitingan celebration in Quezon City on April 9. In a rare extended public speech of mixed formal English and Tagalog, she talked about the attacks on her as Chief Justice and the attacks on the Judiciary and revealed some of her plans for fighting back. She honored those who have been resisting tyranny even before her – the ordinary people and the victims of violence and attacks of Duterte’s policies. She expressed allegiance and unity with these groups and vowed commitment to the ongoing resistance.
For her, she said, this starts a new chapter in the struggle – a chapter where she’s with these broad groups of people she recognized as already in the fight. “Isang yugto na magkakasama na tayo at hindi magkakahiwalay.”
“If you think those in higher position in government are separated from you, not anymore. We will go down and be with you, ” Sereno said in Filipino. She also expressed her enjoyment of being in a “unity for a good cause.”
“My situation is not unlike that of the ordinary oppressed people, I just have a dozen cameras on me,” she said in Filipino. She asked that her voice be also the voice of those who have been killed unjustly, whether in the urban poor communities or in the mountains and countryside.
Organized by the Movement Against Tyranny (MAT), Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI), and Coalition against Darkness and Dictatorship, the gathering conferred awards of “Pagkilala ng Kagitingan” to Sereno, to indigenous leader Joanna Cariño and to others active at resisting President Duterte’s “tyrannical rule.”
Although the Araw ng Kagitingan is mainly for honoring the sacrifices of those who died in the defense of the Republic, MAT “thought it appropriate to honor those still living and courageously fighting for democracy and human rights amid the state of tyranny and repression that grips our nation today.”
Also honored with Pagkilala sa Kagitingan were the Rise Up for Life and for the Rights group of families of victims of extra-judicial killings; and journalists who kept on their work despite threats and harassments from government authorities and Duterte supporters.
‘Give your whole heart to achieve change’
Sereno admitted her ordeal drew thoughts of just giving up. “If I will think of only my feelings, I will likely just give up,” Sereno told a broad gathering of anti-tyranny groups. Recalling though some initiatives to bring reforms into the judiciary, the dissenting opinions she had faced, and the other individuals and groups cited with a similar “Pagkilala ng Kagitingan,” she then talked of resolve.
Referring to the struggle of the survivors of the drug war, of IP leader Joanna and of the journalists and photographers, she asked: “Ano dapat gawin para di sila nag-iisa?” (What must we do so that they would not be alone?) To face those hindering reforms, “What is important is giving it your whole heart.”
Sereno said changes have been underway in the judiciary but these have been “distracted.” Some of these changes include the technology-based fast-tracking of court functions through electronic courts and automated hearing.
Some of her initiatives, she said, had been ignored by the media. Among her actions as Chief Justice, Sereno disagreed with the majority of Supreme Court Justices in April 2013 when it ruled that the party-list system is not just for the marginalized. In November 2016, she was also one of the few justices who voted No to late Ferdinand Marcos’ burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
Asking only for a fair process
Nine months since, by Sereno’s reckoning, she has been forced into this “grueling ordeal”, she decried how her only demand for fair process has been denied. “It’s sad that “they can shred one’s dignity without giving us a chance to cross-examine.”
Until today, when she’s about to face another mode of unseating her, she hasn’t seen yet who is the complainant behind the impeachment case. There have been 15 to 17 hearings in Congress, but the House of Representatives has not yet submitted its report to the Senate. Instead, she said, Solicitor General Jose Calida filed an “unconstitutional” quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court to remove her as Chief Justice.
Calida called Sereno a “usurper,” but Sereno dismissed much of his claims and described it “the height of absurdity,” that the solicitor general was spending time poring over her record as a P6,000-earning assistant professor in UP decades ago.
She urged her fellow justices and the public to make the Solicitor General and the President explain his “unconstitutional” quo warranto petition.
In a separate venue, though, at about the same time, President Duterte reportedly responded not by calling for an investigation into the matter but by threatening more attacks to remove Chief Justice Sereno. He denied he was behind the moves to unseat Sereno as Chief Justice, but added that because of her talking back, he will “now” be her enemy.
For a humble path, the Constitution and the people
The ongoing attack of the executive on a co-equal branch, the judiciary, is among the trend of tyranny and dictatorial rule that galvanized the Araw ng Kagitingan unity of various groups. MAT asserts that the attempt to unseat Chief Justice Sereno is especially critical in lending a veneer of legality to Duterte’s plan to impose a dictatorship either through Charter change, martial law, or a rightist “revolutionary government.”
It has also been predicted to cause a Constitutional crisis. Based on Chief Justice Sereno’s much applauded response, the evolving crisis has made it clear that as far as she is concerned, the Supreme Court should take the path of humility, serve the people and be guided by the Constitution instead of the dictates of a few.
To the Movement Against Tyranny, LODI, Sandiwa alliance for indigenous peoples, Coalition against Darkness and Dictatorship, she said: “we may have diverged on the means but we have one goal, to bring about social justice so Filipinos can feel the benefits of democracy.”
In these perilous times,she urged the various groups gathered to maintain this unity and strengthen it.
“The judiciary belongs to the people,” Sereno said. Among others, she said it should be designed for the needs of the poor. It should feature judges whose master is the people and who can tell the president, ‘NO.’