[OPINION | NEWSPOINT] The Senate’s debt to history
A ghost from the recent past comes to haunt the Senate as it faces a challenge to its jurisdiction over Maria Lourdes Sereno.
As an impeached chief justice, Sereno, by normal operation of law, stands trial at the Senate, where, she says, she feels "confident" she will get the justice denied her in the House of Representatives.
But the House is in no hurry to declare her impeached and send her to trial; it wants to give the state prosecutors time to work their desperate representation and get the Supreme Court to find her unfit to be chief justice. If that happens, Sereno is fired outright, and the Senate robbed of its constitutional mandate to decide her case.
What, then, does the Senate do?
It should be reminded of its own Leila de Lima, who surely deserved more than she got from her own colleagues when her own dignity and freedom came under attack from the Duterte regime.
A consistent critic of Duterte's, De Lima was implausibly implicated in drug trafficking by convicts enlisted by his regime to testify against her. Despite a patently precooked case, the traditionally reasonable-minded Senate practically abandoned her; the majority went fully along, and the minority, overwhelmed as it was (and still is) one to four, raised no more than a timid protest.
De Lima walking out of the Senate to oblige her waiting arrestors was the saddest sight. She has been in jail for more than a year now, her trial delayed by her persecutors' inability to decide what crime to charge her with; they have only recently settled for conspiracy, withdrawing the initial straightforward charge of trading in illegal drugs, a charge requiring concrete evidence, of which they have absolutely none.
About the only senator who from the beginning has fought constantly and vigorously for De Lima is Antonio Trillanes IV. He spent 7 years in prison himself, for rising, as a navy officer, against corruption in the military under President Gloria Arroyo.
Her successor, Benigno Aquino III, granted him amnesty, although his election as senator while serving time, unable to campaign, had been some sort of vindication in itself.
Trillanes knew the stakes then, and knows the stakes now. He was also the first to protest a preemption of Sereno's trial by the Supreme Court. But this time not only his oppositionist colleagues but the Senate president himself has joined him in speaking out, boldly. They all declare the state prosecutors and the Supreme Court, which has begun to entertain their wish, out of line, asserting at the same time the Senate's exclusive role as the impeachment decider.
But how far will the Senate carry the fight?
To be sure, it’s up against a power structure led by a president openly, and proudly, predisposed to dictatorship: “Yes, I am a dictator.” Maybe not yet, not officially, not in the sense that he has replaced the law. But De Lima and Sereno make for illustrations of the insane lengths to which he has advanced on his predisposition.
De Lima was taken to jail and denied her right to bail on the word of convicts who, being life-termers, could only have been too willing to say and do anything for anyone showing any promise of any power to make life easier for them. And who could have been a more desirable prospect for such patron than their herder – the justice secretary himself?
Sereno’s case is not much different in the way it was put together, particularly in the way witnesses were herded. But it has graver implications, especially as they affect the chances of Duterte furthering his dictatorial designs.
And the factor that makes the difference is the Supreme Court.
Sereno is being impeached chiefly on the testimonies of justices who belong in a Supreme Court majority that has been ruling for interests Duterte is known to favor, justices who, moreover, betrayed their resentment toward Sereno by airing petty prejudices at the impeachment hearings. Their appearance in the House as witnesses – not to say against a colleague and under one-sided rules that, for one thing, disallowed rebuttal by her and her lawyers – by itself raises questions of decency. Now, the anomaly is rounded off by the Supreme Court’s readiness to sideline the Senate and usurp its role to pass final judgment on Sereno.
In any case, a judicial robe has been reserved for De Lima for Sereno’s impeachment trial. A cute gesture, but with no redeeming value. It does not raise the chances of De Lima tasting freedom again, if only to wear that robe, or of Sereno getting her fair share of justice.
But it is precisely such dim prospects that should incite the Senate, possibly the last political institution managing to stand. – Rappler.com