OPINION: Why Sereno turned her back on elections

Inday Espina-Varona

Posted at Sep 27 2018 11:46 PM | Updated as of Sep 28 2018 08:10 AM

SHE had offers from political parties and donation pledges from people rich and poor. Ousted chief justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno knows her decision to stay away from the 2019 elections hurt many friends in political circles and even fellow evangelical believers.

But on the eve of her announcement over the weekend to forego next year’s race, Sereno shared why she prefers building a grassroots movement for transformation.

The country, she said, is running out of time as killings linked to President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war continue.

“This war is creating a nation of orphans,” Sereno said in a conversation with a small group of allies, some of whom pointed out that her voice could be drowned out in the frenzy of elections.

The former chief justice said she knows the risks.

But her movement, she stressed, will not be built on the airwaves and the front pages of newspapers. It will be built, house by house, sitio by sitio, village by village, in small and big gatherings, not necessarily before the glare of publicity.

The movement’s theme is the orphaning of Filipinos. Its call is, “Bawat Isa Ay Mahalaga” (Every person must be valued), the logo a finger pointing up, as if in admonition or a reference to the word of God.

The call doesn’t just refer to durg suspects. It covers all persons suffering from injustice and oppression. It remains, however, a clear challenge to the President’s pet program.

Sereno showed a feistiness braving her ouster proceedings and hasn’t changed much since then. But she insists there is no desire to slight Duterte, fondly called “Father” by his fans.

The theme and approach of her movement reflects the need “for a new narrative” among Filipinos opposed to the drug war.

Surveys show a confusing response to Duterte’s drug war, which has seen around 5,000 killed in police operations, with almost double that figure blamed on vigilantes.

“We have so much debate over this ‘war’,” Sereno said.

“We need to talk here,” she stressed, pointing to her heart’s position.

“People need to hear, to see the lives behind the news, and we will be using all forms of art,” Sereno said, citing narrative writing, theater, film, music, dance, painting and other visual arts.

Her decision was cemented, Sereno’s close friends say, after she met the mothers of Rise Up for Life and Rights during a performance of activist artist Mae Paner’s “Tao Po” play at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Paner had invited Sereno to share her insights. But she started asking questions of Palanca second-prize winner, Maynard Manansala. She was then told that the woman who had inspired Paner’s dance instructor character in the “Zumba” monologue was seated beside her on stage. Within seconds, “Mary Anne” and Sereno, both tearful, were locked in a embrace that went on for several minutes.

Whevever you are on the political landscape, stories of real people have the power to shake one’s beliefs.

“The truth is, 80,000 children have been orphaned by this drug war,” Sereno said, explaining the urgency of her movement launch. She uses the new unofficial count of 27,000 killed over two years and then extrapolates, using the average family size of five. Thousands more parents have been forced to flee their communities to avoid getting killed.

On Sept. 27, the same day Sereno launched her movement, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said 400 suspects were killed in anti-drug operations nationwide in August alone, which translates to 14 dead suspects every day.

The former chief justice alluded to the ambivalence of Filipinos towards the drug war. A big majority or 75 percent say they support the campaign. But 96 percent want law enforcers to capture suspects alive and more than half of citizens doubt the police claim that all dead suspects fought it out.

Amid the political debates, Sereno says the voices of the families have been drowned out.

“The families need to be heard and they need to hear each other to gain more strength,” said Sereno.


Aside from the physical orphaning brought about by the drug war, Sereno said “this country is being orphaned of the law.” As former chief justice, lawyers are a natural constituency and she aims to encourage young or idealistic practitioners to volunteer their services for victims’ families.

It is when talk turns to values, however, that Sereno is most impassioned.

How can you declare kinship with Christ and shrug off the killings and other forms of injustice? She intends to bring this uncomfortable question to evangelical communities and other churches.

“As a nation, we are also facing the orphaning of values,” said Sereno.

A society where actions are decided on an us-vs-them mindset will never be rid of conflict, she said.

Those who are privileged to have a voice must speak out for those deprived of the opportunity to find theirs.

To many, Sereno’s movement sounds like a pipe dream.

But she has sparked the imagination of some idealists.

Best-selling inspirational author Alex Lacson, a Catholic lay leader and member of the Movement for Transformational Leadership, spoke at the launch.

“There’s so much we need to change in our government and our society today,” said Lacson, whose political heartbreaks include “leaders who I supported with all my heart but did not have the heart for our people.”

Maybe this time, without the allure of electoral politics complicating decisions, “Filipinos can get it right,” he said.

The new movement won’t limit itself to the fight against EJKs. It will push for accountability in government, respect for the rights of workers, honesty in private business and a halt to exploitation and oppression of the poor.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.