THE obstinacy of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to cling leechlike to office, regardless of all consideration, is not the first instance of a Filipino public official embarrassing herself and her family with their slavish attachment to their post. It’s a spectacle that occurs in every presidential administration. So much so that many suspect that the trait is a Filipino cultural failing.
In May 1989, when Mr. Ehei Aoki, a confidential aide to Japanese Prime Minister Takeshita, committed suicide when his chief was forced to resign, the local magazine Mr & Ms drew a rueful comparison between Japan and the Philippines (May 16, 1989). It commented:
“This illustrates why the Japanese are superior to the Filipinos…In Japan, the slightest link to irregularities relating to integrity and honor is enough reason for resignation from a government official’s post, particularly high government posts. Not so in this country. No matter how patent and obvious the high government official has been using his position for personal aggrandizement, a thousand carabaos wouldn’t be able to pull him down from his post. ‘Produce the evidence. Prove it,’ is the standard response. There lies the great difference. The Japanese will have his honor first, but the Filipino, his money.”
What is happening today in the case of Justice Sereno is more than an instance of history repeating itself. It is obsession with high office as spectacle.
Yesterday, in the biggest demonstration yet of how completely CJ Sereno is spurned from north to south across the archipelago, and how isolated she is in her struggle to hang on, the biggest league of judges in the Philippines and multiple court employees’ organizations nationwide joined together in issuing a formal call on CJ Sereno to step down from her post.
The Philippine Judges Association, the 1,000-strong group of regional trial court judges nationwide, led the call for resignation. Joining them were the Supreme Court Employees’ Association (SCEA), the Supreme Court Assembly of Lawyer Employees (Scale), the Philippine Association of Court Employees (PACE) and the Sandiganbayan Employees Association (SEA).
At the Supreme Court’s flag ceremony yesterday, leaders of all these groups joined the nation’s associate justices, trial judges and court workers in holding another “Red Shirt” day to press Sereno to quit.
Their collective statement calling for the resignation stated: “The impeachment proceedings in recent months have put the entire judiciary in disrepute, thereby affecting the honor and integrity of its justices, judges, officials have pitted against each other resulting in a distressing atmosphere. This is aggravated by the fact that the Court en banc has taken cognizance of the petition for quo warranto and ordered CJ Sereno to file her comment thereto, instead of dismissing it outright. The Court can no longer endure a prolonged environment of this kind. Its officials and personnel, truly dedicated and conscientious public servants, cannot go through another set of hearings and go against each other again in the Senate.
“Chief Justice, let us please not allow history to judge you as the first woman Chief Justice, and the youngest at that, to be removed from office.”
Did CJ Sereno note what happened at the Supreme Court yesterday? Did she hear what her fellow magistrates and court employees are requesting of her. Did she notice that there is no one, no justice, no judge, and no court employee who want her to stay.
She predictably did not. At the same time that the rally at the high court was taking place, Sereno had her own gathering yesterday at the University of the Philippines Diliman, where her supporters wore white shirts to signify her innocence.
At the counter-demonstration, Sereno declared: “I will not resign.” She said she was determined to fight for judicial freedom against extra-legal adventurism that seeks to bend the rules. She then melodramatically intoned: “There is no other option for the Filipino people.”
No other option? Justice Sereno, we believe, must be living in another world.