Leaders of women organizations demanded Tuesday that embattled Chief Justice Ma Lourdes Sereno be given a proper trial where she can confront her accusers in government.
The groups Every Woman and Voices of Women accused the executive branch and President Rodrigo Duterte’s supermajority in the House of Representatives of trying to prevent a Senate trial for Sereno.
“Let the chief justice have her day in Court!,” demanded Beth Yang of Every Woman to cheers from several hundreds of protesters.
Shortly before the Coalition on Justice and Movement of Tyranny rally in front of the the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court gave Sereno 10 days to answer the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor-General Jose Calida.
The government is asking the Court to void Sereno’s appointment due to alleged failure to declare her true wealth during the selection process.
SC spokesperson Theodore Te said Associate Justice Marvic Leonen dissented and expressed his opinion that the petition for "quo warranto" against the Chief Justice should be “dismissed outright. The Court has already junked a similar petition filed by lawyer Oliver Lozano.
Yang slammed the government for filing the petition, accusing key people in the executive, legislative and thhe judiciary of collusion.
The House of Representatives, which was set to vote on the articles of impeachment against Sereno, has announced that it will wait for the Court to rule on Calida’s petition before completing the impeachment process.
"Mangyayari kasi diyan kapag halimbawa na-grant yung SC ng quo warranto, in-invalidate yung appointment, ano i-impeach namin? Wala na," said Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who had suggested the petition. (If the SC grants the quo warranto and invalidates her appointment, we have no reason anymore to impeach.)
Yang said there is only a one-Year prescription period for quo warranto cases and Sereno has served as chief justice since 2012.
The petition, she added, will be also heard by the same justices who forced the chief justice on February 27 to take an indefinite leave.
Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, appointed acting chief justice by colleagues, said the Court wants to insulate itself from the impeachment process.
Symbol of oppression
Menchu Karagdag of Voices of Women said Sereno is a victim of repression under a macho dictatorship that has already victimized thousands Filipino women, including mothers, wives and daughters of the many killed in Duterte’s anti-drug crackdown and anti-insurgency campaign.
“Not surprisingly, Sereno incurred the ire of Malacanang for daring to criticize human rights violations,” Karagdag said.
The attack on Sereno is part of government plan to undermine the nation’s institutions of justice, she added, and the SC’s move against Sereno plays into Duterte’s plan.
A pliant Supreme Court and a subservient Congress will allow Duterte to ram through a charter change that would institutionalize dictatorship, she warned.
Speakers like artist-activist Mae Paner and lawyer Josa Deinla, a spokesperson for Sereno’s legal team, acknowledged the uphill struggle to convince Filipinos that Sereno’s woes herald a whole-scale crackdown on democratic rights.
Deinla said supporters of the chief justice should fan out into communities to correct the lies spread by legislators, who barred Sereno’s lawyers from the House proceedings.
Duterte forcing opposition to unite
Paner noted the presence of workers, families of those slain in the anti-drug campaign, and even peasants from regions, standing side by side religious groups and supporters of the administration of former president Benigno Simeon Aquino.
“We’re standing here, groups with differences. But we are united in our anger against the dictatorship of Rodrigo Duterte,” said Paner, who spoke for the Movement Against Tyranny.
“What he is doing to Sereno, he has already done of many mothers, to the victims of ‘tokhang’, workers, drivers, lawyers,” she said.
“Sereno’s fight is also their fight and the fight of every Filipino who cares for justice, truth and democracy, because we need an independent judiciary to review cases of abuse.”
Pastor Caloy Dino of the Center for Community Transformation and a convenor of the Coalition of Justice also spoke of healing rifts among pro-democracy activists.
“We may come from different communities, political stands, and different faiths, but we are here together to fight for chief Justice Sereno.”
“In the face of dictatorship, we are slowly becoming united,” said Paner. “Duterte’s abuses are forging stronger bonds among ourselves.”
The color purple
Protesters wore white and black shirts with purple stoles and shawls, representing the robes of Supreme Court justices.
The color is also associated with women’s groups that have pushed back against Duterte’s misogynist and abusive messages towards rights workers and his order for soldiers to shoot women rebels in their vaginas.
Evangelical groups had the biggest delgation. Sereno is a member of that Christian denomination. But Catholic priests and nuns were also present as well as the National Council of Churches in the Philippines.
The NCCP warned that impeachment would only create animosity in a polarized country.
“While we cannot tell how politics is to be conducted in this country, our social responsibility commands us to speak of the consequences of political actions in so far as the greater and long term good is concerned,” said the umbrella organization of mainstream Christian churches.
“We support and uphold the separation of powers and independence between the branches of government,” said the NCCP, a call echoed by almost all the speakers.
“At stake in the current bid to impeach the chief justice are precisely those separations of powers,” it pointed out.
Speakers accused the Duterte administration of manipulating events, trampling on Sereno’s rights and defiling the Constitution.
Dino said the events of the last week are shaking the foundations of the judiciary and endangering democracy.
Youth Against Tyranny convenor Raoul Manuel said the drastic narrowing of democratic space against Duterte is the result of a political and economic system where a small group of clans lord over the population.
They will try their best to wrest control of all democratic institutions, Manuel warned.
“The youth will stand with all of you. This is a start. Let us return to the streets to defend democracy.”