Sereno's 'hugot' for Women’s Month: She took the lonely road

WOMEN'S MONTH. Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno attends a women's forum at St Scholastica's College in Manila on March 7, 2018, alongside former social welfare secretary Judy Taguiwalo and former Commission on Audit chairperson Grace Pulido Tan.

Photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler

She was careful not to allude to the obvious: the seeming mutiny against her at the Supreme Court (SC) as the en banc entertains a quo warranto petition seeking to remove her – a route separate from the impeachment process, which the Constitution provides.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, however, could not help herself but draw from "hugot."

"She did not earn the approval of her peers, instead she had to take the lonely road by voicing her dissent against authoritarianism," Sereno said in her speech at a National Women's Month forum held at St Scholastica’s College in Manila on Wednesday, March 7.

She was talking about her idol, the late former SC Associate Justice Cecilia Muñoz-Palma, but she could as well have been talking about herself. (READ: Why SC justices forced Sereno to go on leave)

Of course, reporters covering the speech were waiting for something that would address either the quo warranto petition filed against her, or the deepening fissures among the justices, but media was left to settle for her allusions.

Her colleagues on the bench, who have pressured her to go on indefinite leave, are welcome to analyze that "hugot" too.

The impeachment proceedings against Sereno have exposed the Chief Justice's predicament. She is hailed by supporters as a strong voice of dissent against President Rodrigo Duterte, but she can't get the same support from her own backyard. (READ: Sereno: Justices' grudges against me their problem, not mine)

Glass ceiling

In talking about Palma, Sereno called her a person "whose excellence broke many glass ceilings for women as the country's first woman fiscal, first woman judge of the Court of First Instance, and first woman justice of the Supreme Court."

Sereno is the first woman Chief Justice.

Sereno also said of Palma: "In some of the darkest days of our nation's history, her light shone the brightest as she courageously dissented in several Martial Law cases that to her undermine the rule of law."

The Chief Justice has also consistently dissented in rulings favoring Duterte's martial law in Mindanao.

Sereno faces imminent impeachment at the House of Representatives, and mounting criticism from the bench.

In a speech in Baguio City last week, she was bolder in telling those who want her to resign: "Ano sila sinusuwerte? (They're pushing their luck too far.)"

In her St Scho speech on Wednesday, it appeared she decided to tone it down, reverting to broad language.

"The current state of the nation is one where perceived enemies of the dominant order are considered fair game for harassment, intimidation, and persecution; where shortcuts are preferred over adherence to constitutional guarantees of human rights, including denial of due process; where fake news and propaganda abound to deceive and manipulate, rather than enlighten and educate, the public; and where coarseness, including the denigration of women, rather than civility, mark the language of the podium," she said.

Chased by reporters after her speech for clarifications, Sereno flashed a big smile and said, "Happy Women's Month!" –

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.