Rereading this column, which was published on November 7, 2017, I am filled with a deep sadness, not only because of what was done to Chief Justice Sereno, but also and even more to the point because of what was done to the country. With the encouragement of President Duterte, a majority of eight justices justified the unjustifiable. If the Supreme Court itself can remove an impeachable official outside of the impeachment process, what can stop it from, say, agreeing with the House of Representatives that it can convene as a constituent assembly without the participation of the Senate? Sereno was the red line.
I think I now understand why Speaker Bebot Alvarez and the leadership of the House of Representatives insist on restrictive rules on cross-examination, in the Duterte administration’s campaign to impeach Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. It isn’t, as I imagined, an attempt to humiliate her by forcing the head of a co-ordinate branch of government to conduct the cross-examination in her own impeachment case herself, or to subject her to direct questioning by all committee members as well as by a cartoon villain of a complainant.
Rather, the restrictive rules are meant to protect the fatally defective complaint’s witnesses and resource persons, especially — I am reading between the lines here — Associate Justice Teresita de Castro. The impeachment case against Sereno does not allege a single impeachable offense, but it does rest on an explosive but misleading memo written by De Castro. But the full context of the memo is not flattering to De Castro, and any counsel for Sereno who is expert in the art of cross-examination will swiftly surface the embarrassing details. (The exact same thing will happen to De Castro if the impeachment reaches the Senate.)
Alvarez may be able to protect De Castro in the House; as a matter of political expediency, he will treat her as a (very) friendly witness. But unless I have been misinformed, Alvarez has no influence over the Senate. Can President Duterte persuade enough of his political allies in the Senate to promulgate new impeachment trial rules to protect sitting justices from the indignity of a hostile cross-examination? That’s a risk De Castro will have to take. Continue reading