“Our spirits have been weakened as our own people are verbally and physically brutalized.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Being ousted from the Chief Justice post was definitely not the end for former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s fight to uphold the rule of law and for democracy.
“So I stand before you now, stripped of my authority and my position by an unjust decision. But I do not have to be Chief Justice to defend our laws and institutions. I live the law, as do all Filipinos who uphold the dignity of every fellow Filipino,” Sereno said in a gathering of her supporters led by the Coalition for Justice dubbed as Kasama ko si CJ! in UP Diliman Bahay ng Alumni on June 19, Tuesday.
It was also on the same day that the Supreme Court (SC) denied Sereno’s motion for reconsideration due to “lack of merit.”
With a vote of 8-6 the SC affirmed its May 11 decision to oust Sereno through the quo warranto proceedings. A report said that the “denial was final and no further pleadings shall be entertained.”
A quo warranto was filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida amid the impeachment proceedings against Sereno at the House of Representatives. Several groups, as well as Sereno, have asserted that granting the quo warranto would affect judicial independence as a Chief Justice could only be removed through impeachment proceedings.
In her speech, Sereno said that what had happened to her “is not unique” but “a mirror.” She also called it a warning and a call to action.
Sereno said there are precedents to attacks against government institutions such as the Energy Regulatory Commission, the Commission on Elections, Commission on Higher Education, Commission on Human Rights, the Ombudsman and now the Supreme Court.
“It demonstrates the disregard that this administration has for the Constitution and the rule of law,” she said adding that it started when Duterte became the country’s president.
“Thus, the responsibility for the weakening of the rule of law is his. He has admitted that sowing intrigue and planting evidence have been part of his practice,” she said.
“To deflect attention from his guilt, he constantly proclaims that he will resign if proof is shown of his participation in each new debacle for the rule of law. And yet, when reminded of his public pronouncements and the conformable acts of his supporters, he and his people retort: is that proof? And so the list of contradicting words and actions gets longer and longer as he continues to employ his strategy of spreading confusion,” she added.
But the people cannot be fooled easily, Sereno said, because they are brave.
She also criticized what appears to be cowardice of the Philippine government to fight for its sovereignty over China’s incursion at the West Philippine Sea.
“Our sights have been set low by the very leaders who should lead us to pursue lofty visions for our nation and our people. Our morale has been crushed by their talk of hopelessness against foreigners. Our spirits have been weakened as our own people are verbally and physically brutalized,” she said.
But through it all, Sereno said, the people are rising amid the attacks that Duterte and his supporters are making against those who question his administration. She said the people have the right to ask Duterte “tough questions and take him into account.”
With this, she asked questions addressed to Duterte on issues that affect the ordinary people in this time, such as the rising cost of basic commodities. “What hope is there, Mr. President, for our economic future and what is the basis of that hope?”
She also asked how much more difficulty the people have to bear when TRAIN or Tax Acceleration and Inclusion law packages 2, 3, and 4 would be implemented. “Do you have a plan to help alleviate our sufferings?”
She also questioned the high cost of the planned jeepney modernization, which the drivers could not afford.
She also noted the P5 billion ($93 million) budget for confidential funds “not counting the huge expenses the government incurs because of your trips home to Davao and abroad, with unprecedented large retinues of supporters.”
“Paano naman po ang mga mamamayan na pati sa pamasahe ay kinakapos?” (How about the people who do not have enough even for transportation fare?)
She also asked if Duterte intends to file charges against government officials who were accused of corruption. She said most of them are just being recycled to other posts in government.
She also said that the plan to change the Constitution will require an “enormous amount of funds,” which could be used for the people’s welfare instead.
“How much, Mr. President, has already been spent and how much more do you intend to spend? And how much money will be needed to fund the new positions that will be created in a federal government and in the state governments?” she asked, adding that it is the people’s money that the government will be spending.
Lastly she questioned the “true purpose” of the shift to federalism.
“If you truly intend to strengthen local governments, why do your allies want to give you centralized dictatorial powers during a long transition period?”
Sereno thanked all her supporters from day one and who continue to support her up to now.
At the end of her speech Sereno said, “Sa bawat pagkakataon na tayo’y naninindigan, nagwawagi ang lahing Pilipino. At ito ang laban na hindi mabibigo.” (Every time we stand for our rights, the Filipino race emerges victorious. This is a fight that we could not lose.)
Meanwhile, Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) condemned the SC’s denial of Sereno’s motion for reconsideration on the quo warranto petition. “This clearly reeks of tyrannical rule as it poses a dangerous precedent of circumventing judicial processes,” the group said in a statement.