Dateline Seattle: When Vindictiveness is Weaponized

The decision of the Supreme Court to nullify the appointment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was a not a surprise to me. In fact, I expected it. I knew she had no chance. Sereno lost her appointment on the very first day President Rodrigo Duterte branded her as his enemy. Sereno and Duterte clashed over his bloody war on drugs and alleged abuse of power. What happened to Sereno was exactly the same thing that happened to Senator Leila de Lima. De Lima was doomed from the very day Duterte was elected president. Her sin was she had Duterte investigated in 2009 for alleged human rights violations. She was at that time the chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights. Payback time. Once the president set the tone that Sereno should go, every government institution tasked with ensuring that the president’s wish was granted moved with alarming swiftness. Immediately, an impeachment complaint was filed against Sereno in the House of Representatives by Lorenzo Gadon. Without the benefit of any hearing, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, an ardent supporter of Duterte, said that Sereno would be “done” once Congress resumes sessions in May Solicitor General Jose Calida, a Duterte appointee, filed a “quo warranto” petition to the Supreme Court that the chief justice must be ousted because her appointment was “void” from the very start. Quo warranto is a legal action used to resolve a dispute over whether a specific person has the legal right to hold the public office that he or she occupies. Trolls started to aggressively attack Sereno in the social media with increasing frequency and intensity. Even Supreme Court employees were pressured to wear red in support of Sereno’s ouster. One could see the writings on the wall. All the legal posturing by the government to project that democracy was at work, that Sereno was being treated fairly was nothing but posturing. I am not a lawyer, but I know how justice or injustice works in the Philippines. I am old enough to know that those in power will do everything, using various forms of legal machinations, to destroy a person or convict the innocent. It’s sad that even the Supreme Court played along; eight magistrates voted to kick Sereno out. Of course, the ruling stated that the magistrates are not toeing the line of the president. Common sense dictates that this would be included in the ruling. That’s to be expected to prevent mistrust between the Supreme Court and the people. But six magistrates voted in support of Sereno. Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvin Leonen described the ruling as a “legal abomination” that should not have been entertained by the High Court. Leonen continued, “This petition should have been dismissed outright and not given due course. It does not deserve space in judicial deliberation within our constitutional democratic space.” I would give Sereno an unsolicited advice not to appeal her case because she would lose just the same. The eight magistrates will not change their minds. I can see it in my crystal ball. And to Vice President Leni Robredo – watch out. Your days may also be numbered. There is a level of fear in the magistrates’ minds that prevents them from developing a rule of law that protects the victim against a vindictive government. What results is a system where the powerful can do anything they please because vindictiveness is weaponized. Vindictiveness is not new in Philippine politics. But it is one that the Duterte administration has breathed a degree of new life into.