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It’s not just about Sereno

By Luis V. Teodoro

The unprecedented removal through quo warranto proceedings of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno from her post isn’t only about her, or solely about the Supreme Court, the rule of law, the Constitution, or the Duterte regime and its autocratic pretensions. Even more crucially is it about the fate and future of the democratization process that at least twice in history has been interrupted at its most crucial stage, and, driven by the need to address political and economic underdevelopment, has had to twice start all over again in this country.

The democratization of Philippine society began with the reform movement of the late 19th century and reached its highest point during the Revolution of 1896, which was as much for independence, equality and social justice as it was against Spanish colonial rule. Through the worker-led Katipunan, the Revolution was on the verge of defeating the Spanish forces and had achieved de facto independence when a near-fatal combination of betrayal by the Magdalo faction of the rural gentry and foreign intervention prevented its fruition despite the First Republic, and left it unfinished.

United States recognition of Philippine independence in 1946 made the resumption of the democratization process and the completion of the Revolution possible. But thanks to the heirs of the principalia — the handful of families the US had trained in the fine arts of backroom politics and self-aggrandizement during its formal occupation of the Philippines — what instead ensued for two decades was a succession of administrations that prospered while presiding over the country and its people’s continuing poverty and underdevelopment, subservience to foreign interests, and political disempowerment.

Against these fundamental ills there had always been both armed and unarmed resistance even during the country’s captivity to US colonialism. But it was in the mid-1960s when the historic demands of the Philippine Revolution found their best expression in the movement for change initially led by workers and students which soon spread across the entire country and among various sectors. Its demand for the democratization of political power, for authentic independence, gender equality, agrarian revolution, and national industrialization resonated enough among the peasantry, progressive professionals, indigenous peoples, the enlightened religious, and liberated women to mobilize hundreds of thousands.

In the First Quarter Storm of 1970, the numbers of its adherents and the power of their demands were demonstrably enough for the second Marcos administration to use state violence to suppress the strikes, demonstrations and other mass actions that were almost daily challenging dynastic rule by demanding the end of feudalism, bureaucrat capitalism and imperialism. In response to these demands, and to keep himself in power beyond 1973, Marcos suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in 1971 and made good on his threat to declare martial law in 1972, when he placed the entire country under a dictatorship sustained by military bayonets on the pretext of saving the Republic and reforming society while actually doing the opposite.

Despite the worst repression, despite the arrests and detention, despite the torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killing of thousands of the best and brightest sons and daughters of the people, it was in the resistance to the Marcos terror regime that democratization continued to find expression.

Many of those in the resistance refused to surrender it during the period of repression, but it took 14 years of armed and unarmed defiance before the Filipino people once more recovered the possibility of exercising the democratic right to shape their own future. However, despite its promise of far-reaching change with the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship, over the last 32 years the 1986 civilian-military mutiny known as People Power or EDSA 1 has failed to deliver on that promise, thanks to the continuing monopoly over political power of the same dynasties that for over a century have prevented the realization of the changes Philippine society so desperately needs.

Over those three decades, people’s organizations and other democratic formations persisted in fighting for those changes. In 2001, outraged over the corruption and incompetence of a plunderous regime, they removed another president from power. While state repression in various forms, and with it such human rights violations as torture, enforced disappearances, abductions and extrajudicial killings continued, the reigns of three of the five presidents after Marcos that preceded Rodrigo Duterte’s have not been openly antagonistic to due process, the bill of rights, press freedom, and the system of checks and balances.

The Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, and Benigno Aquino III administrations at least paid lip service to the desirability of peace and the rule of law. But one cannot say the same of the Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regimes. The former was mostly focused on the use of the presidency in amassing wealth, while the latter was intent on remaining in power, and did not hesitate to use state violence to suppress dissent and opposition in advancing and protecting the personal, family and class interests behind it.

But it is the Duterte regime, with the enthusiastic support of the Estrada and Arroyo cliques, that has most imperiled the realization of the legitimate demands for the democratization of political power and economic opportunity, true independence, and inclusive development. It has become increasingly clear that President Rodrigo Duterte has not bothered to craft any master plan to end or even reduce poverty, or even such of its manifestations as environmental degradation, limited employment opportunities and low agricultural productivity under an archaic tenancy system. But he does have a blueprint for the restoration of authoritarian rule through his accomplices’ and minions’ dominance in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.

The abridgment of press freedom, the attacks on human rights, the willful debasement of public discourse, the further erosion of the already erratic observance of the rule of law, and the subversion of the little that survives of the system of checks and balances through the orchestrated attacks on the ombudsman and Chief Justice Sereno are parts of the plot to undermine what little is left of democracy in these isles of uncertainty. By riding the crest of mass disaffection with government and the burgeoning demand for change and revolution to win the Presidency in 2016, Mr. Duterte has managed to hijack all three branches of government.

The ouster of Sereno as Chief Justice is not solely about Sereno. Neither is it about the Maleficent Six. It is about the imminent danger of dictatorship. This is the context in which, with the collaboration of his cohorts in Congress and the Supreme Court itself, Mr. Duterte is putting a stop to the democratization of Philippine society as Ferdinand Marcos did in 1972. For the third time since the late 19th and early 20th centuries, that process is once more in danger of interruption — and worse, its final liquidation.

In these circumstances only the people themselves can put a stop to the latest assault on their right to self-government and the realization of their aspirations for a society of peace, justice and equality. Because the leaders to whom they had previously delegated their sovereign authority had failed them, they exercised their right and duty to remove them in 1986, and again in 2001.

Some events in the political lives of nations can be the turning point in the resolution of the contradictions that afflict them. The Sereno “incident” could be that point.

(First published in BusinessWorld. Photo from the Supreme Court.)

Students hold Black Friday Protest a week after Sereno’s ouster

A week after Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes PA Sereno was ousted by majority of the associate justices of the Supreme Court, students from the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University and Miriam College and other groups held another Black Friday Protest along Katipunan Avenue.

Saying the Rodrigo Duterte regime’s looming control of all branches of government does not bode well for democracy in the country, the protesters added the people must be vigilant against the possible declaration of a nationwide martial law.

‘May prosesong sinusunod’

Lawyers hold rally vs Sereno ouster

Lawyers held a rally in front of the Supreme Court Tuesday to protest the May 11 decision of the majority of its magistrates to oust Ma. Lourdes Sereno as chief justice.

Dissenting with the decision, lawyers led by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers said Sereno’s ouster through the quo warranto petition is unconstitutional.

In a statement, NUPL said the “erroneous” and “shortcut” petition has far reaching effects as it slays judicial independence.

“Our democracy is in peril. Monopoly of power in the Executive without checks and balance is practically complete,” the NUPL said.

Performance artist Mae Paner dramatizes what lawyers says is the death of judicial independence with the ouster of Ma Lourdes Sereno as chief justice through a quo warranto petition. (Photo by Sarah Jane Mendoza Aguilar/Kodao)

The group earlier said Sereno should have been subjected to an impeachment trial in the Senate as an impeachable official, blaming the Rodrigo Duterte government for the chief magistrate’s ouster.

“Dissent even in traditional forms are shot down. Those who stand in the way of government policy and fancy are waylaid,” NUPL said.

The NUPL said it is its duty to protect the rule of law and has thus decided to organize the nationally coordinated  protest actions.

“Our reason for being is put to question. We are being forced to relearn or unlearn what we studied or taught in law school. The Decision revolts against norms we hold dear,” it said.

Wearing court attires, the lawyers also wore black ribbons as a sign of protest and pleading. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Sereno speech after ouster

After being ousted via an 8-6 vote by her Supreme Court colleagues, Maria Lourdes Sereno delivers this speech.

SC has fallen, lawyers’ group says after Sereno’s ouster

Human rights lawyers said Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno’s ouster means the Supreme Court (SC) has surrendered its independence to political pressures.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) called the SC decision granting the Quo Warranto petition against Sereno as “deplorable, contemptuous and a contortion of the Constitution.”

Eight SC associate justices voted to grant the Quo Warranto petition Friday morning, saying Sereno became chief magistrate on the basis on an invalid appointment.

Associate Justices Teresita De Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza, Samuel Martires, Noel Tijam, Andres Reyes Jr and Alexander Gesmundo voted in the affirmative.

Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco, Mariano Del Castillo, Estela Perlas Bernabe, Marvic Leonen and Benjamin Caguioa voted against.

The NUPL however said the decision was dishonorable and is a red carpet for dictatorial rule by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Earlier, the NUPL said the Quo Warranto petition filed by the Office of the Solicitor General set “a very dangerous and ruinous precedent that can even be used against any impeachable officer, including other justices of the Supreme Court who go against the wishes of and in the crosshairs of the administration or interest groups.”

In its reaction to the decision Friday, the lawyers’ group said granting the Quo Warranto petition does not affect the Chief Justice alone.

“It primarily affects the entire nation as the Supreme Court literally sprawled the red carpet for dictatorial rule,” the NUPL in a statement said.

The NUPL called on judges and lawyers nationwide to step-up protests against “the breakdown of the so-called rule of law and the erosion of judicial independence.”

The group said it is planning and calling for nationwide simultaneous forms of protest against the SC decision to oust CJ Sereno on Tuesday, May 15.

Possible actions include wearing of black pins or armbands, court hearing holiday, picket at the SC and other courts, and legal fora and press conferences, the group said.

“Today is yet again not another good day to be a lawyer. But we will fight and hold fast. The people we serve deserve no less,” the NUPL said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Sereno slams attacks against judicial independence

Beleaguered Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno slammed “bullying tactics” against her and the judiciary in a speech before civil libertarians last April 9 on the occasion of the Araw ng Kagitingan.

In this video, Sereno asked her audience to join her in the defense of judicial independence.

ITANONG MO KAY PROF: Hinggil sa banta kay Chief Justice Sereno at hudikatura

Sa pagbabalik ng ‘Itanong mo kay Prof’ pinag-usapan nina Prof. Jose Maria Sison at Prof. Sarah Raymundo ang tangkang pagtatanggal kay Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno ng administrasyong Rodrigo Duterte.

Ano ang ibig sabihin ng tangkang impeachment kay Sereno? Ano ang implikayon nito sa independensiya ng hudikatura sa panahong inaakusahan ang gubyernong Duterte ng malawak na paglabag sa karapatang pantao? Mapapatalsik kaya ang Punong Mahistrado?

Pakinggan ang analisis ng nangungunang social scientist ng Pilipinas sa isyung ito.