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islander

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Two Views on CJ Sereno
« on: March 06, 2018, 12:07:42 PM »

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Conflicting thoughts on CJ Sereno

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Randy David
March 04, 2018

On a long road trip the other day, I happened to be tuned in to yet another live broadcast of the unending marathon hearing on the impeachment case against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno at the House of Representatives.  In the agenda of the House committee on justice that day was the testimony of the psychiatrists of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) who administered the psychological test to applicants for chief justice in 2012.

I was stunned by the extent to which the committee members were prepared to go to dig up anything that would complete their public degradation of the Chief Justice. It violated all norms governing the relationship between politics and science. In a glaring political misuse of science, the committee asked their guests to set aside all scruples about the professional oaths they took in favor of the presumably higher constitutional task to which they were being asked to contribute.

In particular, they were asked to divulge the results of the psychological evaluation of then Justice Sereno. Such tests are normally regarded as highly confidential, to be used strictly in relation to a specific purpose. Taken out of context, their outcomes could be given unwarranted meanings. If they fall in the wrong hands, they could be used to discredit and blackmail subjects who trustingly submitted to these tests.

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islander

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Re: Two Views on CJ Sereno
« Reply #1 on: March 06, 2018, 12:08:38 PM »

The JBC correctly stood its ground and initially refused to release the raw results of the tests, or to interpret them for the committee. But confronted with the threat of being held in contempt, and assured of immunity from criminal prosecution, they relented and agreed to speak in executive session. Proceedings in executive sessions are supposed to be restricted to the members, but, invariably, they leak out.

The JBC personnel tried their best to qualify their statements and to keep what they had to say to the barest minimum. But, smelling blood, the committee turned to its invited “expert witness,” the clinical psychologist Geraldine Tria, to interpret the results. Dr. Tria told them what they were waiting to hear: “You have nine manifestations, and there are strong indicators that five out of nine are actually manifested, like grandiosity, unlimited power, sense of entitlement, interpersonally exploitative in order to take advantage of others … lack of empathy and sensitiveness to the needs of other members in the community.” She concluded thus: “Based on the findings, [she is] not recommendable.” For someone who never once interviewed the subject, or observed her at close range, Dr. Tria was quite bold and sweeping in her analysis. One wonders what prodded her to put herself in this situation.

The appointment of justices of the Supreme Court is strictly the prerogative of the president of the Republic, who chooses from a list provided by the JBC. It is a political power conferred by law, and to be exercised within the bounds of the law. There are specific legal requirements for such appointments, but, as far as I know, “passing” or “failing” a neuropsychiatric test is not one of these. Clearly, there are subjective factors that go into such appointments. It is the president’s call in the end.

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islander

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Re: Two Views on CJ Sereno
« Reply #2 on: March 06, 2018, 12:09:26 PM »

I am not myself a great fan of the Chief Justice. My one and only personal encounter with then Professor Meilou Sereno at the University of the Philippines was fleeting, but it left me with such a disturbing impression of her that I have since thought it prudent to avoid being in a conversation with her. Certainly, I had very strong reservations when President Benigno Aquino III appointed her to replace Chief Justice Renato Corona, who, despite being disgraced and impeached, had remained popular with the Court staff.

I have always thought that President Aquino, who, back in 2010, questioned Chief Justice Corona’s midnight appointment by the outgoing Arroyo administration, missed a crucial opportunity to restore a sense of order at the high court when he appointed a very junior magistrate like Justice Sereno to the position of chief justice. In so doing, like Arroyo before him who put a higher premium on loyalty than on what was good for the institution, he bypassed very senior magistrates, including Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.

I have strong doubts about the impeachability of the offenses with which Chief Justice Sereno is charged. But whether she is removed from her position or not, I don’t think, judging from her recent troubles with her fellow magistrates, which seem symptomatic of her relationship with most of them, that she is in any position to effectively lead the Court.

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islander

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Re: Two Views on CJ Sereno
« Reply #3 on: March 06, 2018, 12:10:21 PM »

The Court is indeed a collegial body. But an ethic of seniority usually pervades such settings. Chief Justice Sereno’s appointment brazenly stood this ethic on its head. Under the circumstances, it would have required a large reservoir of people skills and humility on her part to neutralize the resentment that would have been generated by her appointment.

But, from the start, she didn’t seem inclined to do that. She displayed such a disconcerting sense of being anointed that one would think she was being named to an ecclesiastical rather than to a state office. At her first flag-raising ceremony at the Court grounds, for instance, she told the assembled employees: “The whole world is witness that this appointment is God’s will … Only God put me in this position. It seemed like it was time to give the leadership of the Supreme Court to one of his humble servants.”

What does that say of her colleagues who applied for the same position and did not get it? To me, that kind of talk is no different from invoking science to serve political ends.

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Re: Two Views on CJ Sereno
« Reply #4 on: March 06, 2018, 12:31:23 PM »

NEWSSTAND

In defense of CJ Sereno
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John Nery
March 06, 2018

I disagree, strongly, with the much-esteemed Randy David when he suggests in “Conflicting thoughts on CJ Sereno” that the Philippines’ first female chief justice’s candid remarks about her appointment being “God’s will” is the same as a psychologist’s terrible misuse of neuropsychiatric test results.

A leading public intellectual, and a favorite writer of mine, David ends his disconcerting column by quoting Sereno: “The whole world is witness that this appointment is God’s will… Only God put me in this position. It seemed like it was time to give the leadership of the Supreme Court to one of his humble servants.” And then he concludes: “What does that say of her colleagues who applied for the same position and did not get it? To me, that kind of talk is no different from invoking science to serve political ends.”

David is making a false equivalence, and I will try to show why. In the process, I hope to make my own views clear: that the intervention of several Supreme Court justices in the Duterte administration’s campaign to remove Sereno from office is egregious, and only enfeebles an already weak judiciary.

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islander

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Re: Two Views on CJ Sereno
« Reply #5 on: March 06, 2018, 12:32:22 PM »

David’s real argument, within the limits dictated by his conflictedness, involves what he calls the ethic of seniority. President Benigno Aquino III’s appointment of Sereno, a junior justice, to the position of first among equals in the Court after the conviction of Chief Justice Renato Corona violated this ethic and, like an injury that never healed, has now irrupted into a festering wound. He writes: “Chief Justice Sereno’s appointment brazenly stood this ethic [of seniority] on its head. Under the circumstances, it would have required a large reservoir of people skills and humility on her part to neutralize the resentment that would have been generated by her appointment.”

I disagree, because in fact the ethic of seniority is not all that it is reputed to be. How easy it is for us to forget that Corona himself was not the most senior member of the Court when Gloria Arroyo appointed him chief justice. (That was Antonio Carpio, who had proven to be more independent-minded than first thought.) The chief justice Corona succeeded, Reynato Puno, was bypassed once when he was the most senior member of the Court. (In the US Supreme Court, after which our own is patterned, seniority is not even a consideration in the appointment of a chief justice.)

My point: The seniority card is only an excuse, used to cover a multitude of frustrated ambitions. So what if several justices now act as if they cannot get along with Sereno? Will the Court come to a screaming stop? To ask the practical question is to answer it.

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Re: Two Views on CJ Sereno
« Reply #6 on: March 06, 2018, 12:35:25 PM »

Sereno’s public display of her spirituality is again only another excuse. Is she the only justice, or even the only chief justice, to speak in terms of “God’s will”? Of course not. When Aquino won the presidency, Corona, whom Aquino viewed as illegitimately occupying the post of chief justice, offered an olive branch wrapped in religious ribbons. We must unite behind Aquino, he said in June 2010. “Let us all move forward and together, with God’s will, we will bring this country as envisioned by Rizal toward national greatness.”

Perhaps Sereno committed a faux pas in the secular precincts of the judiciary when she spoke of her appointment as following God’s will? We can point to many other justices who welcomed their appointment to the Court in the exact same terms. For instance, Sereno’s tormentor in the Court, Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro, accepted her designation in December 2007 in the exact same terms. It was not political payback for her rulings adverse to deposed President Joseph Estrada, she said. Rather, her joining the Court was “God’s will.”

In the light of the Court’s own history, Sereno’s religious understanding of her office is not out of the ordinary. How can it be, when most appointees to the Court are Christian, have experience of the many vicissitudes of life, and are familiar with Christian tropes that, to use David’s framework, “would have been generated” by their professional success?

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Re: Two Views on CJ Sereno
« Reply #7 on: March 06, 2018, 12:35:49 PM »

But the partisan abuse of science is unlike the personal spirituality (or lack of it) that motivates individual justices. There is and can be no justification for invoking science to serve political ends.

What IS equivalent to the abuse of science is the effort of a group of justices to sideline her. Whatever motives they may have had (and we must all grant that they may have been moved by genuine concerns, perhaps even driven by a religious understanding of personal agency), they have only succeeded in strengthening the Duterte administration’s campaign against Sereno. In acting (precipitately, on nonimpeachable issues with Sereno) to protect their institution, they have only undermined it. They misunderstand the President’s attack on Sereno as directed at her alone. Based on everything else that he has done, this cannot be true. It is, it has always been, Mr. Duterte versus the Court.

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