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The genie that got out

A Palace statement urging Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to resign before she is ousted by impeachment has triggered calls to insulate the judiciary against politics.

An opposition lawmaker, Akbayan Party-list Rep. Tom Villarin, said the call showed Malacañang’s “manipulative hand” in the impeachment case against Sereno.

Villarin criticized Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque for calling for Sereno’s resignation when the House committee on justice has yet to discuss the charges against her.

“Is Malacañang conditioning the public’s mind that CJ Sereno is guilty?”

“Now they are in a hurry to convict her through public pressure and using even the Supreme Court’s standing to justify such call,” he added.

At a press briefing, Roque admitted that President Rodrigo Duterte wanted Sereno “to be removed altogether, by any means,” and said her possible impeachment would damage the judiciary.

The Palace spokesman called on the Chief Justice “to reexamine very carefully the effect of another removal to the institution itself,” clearly referring to the impeachment trial and ouster of Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012, on the same grounds that Sereno is now being impeached—the failure to properly declare her assets.

Earlier, Sereno herself warned of a “resurgence of political forces” that have “threatened and harassed” the independence of the judicial system.

A pro-Sereno group, Pinoy Aksyon, also came to her defense.

“Impeachment is an extraordinary remedy to strengthen our democratic institutions,” the group said in a statement. “It should not be used as [a] convenient tool to serve vested interests.”

In an ideal world, this should certainly be true.

But precedent teaches us that we do not live in an ideal world, and that the judiciary is vulnerable to political pressures.

No single case exemplifies this better than the ruthless and unrelenting manner in which President Benigno Aquino III used his political capital and public funds to pressure Congress into removing Corona, whom he perceived to be an obstacle to his own agenda.

The use of millions of pesos in pork barrel to reward those who voted in favor of Corona’s conviction at his impeachment trial is well documented, and clearly a perversion of the impeachment process.

Yet, we do not think Villarin or Pinoy Aksyon objected too vehemently to Mr. Aquino’s vicious campaign not only to oust Corona but to destroy his reputation with his constant attacks in the media. Nor do we remember that they objected too vociferously when Mr. Aquino’s allies in Congress pressured then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez into resigning by suggesting that her ouster through impeachment was inevitable.

It is true that politics should not intrude on the workings of the judiciary. But sadly, that genie has already been let out of the bottle, and those complaining about it now did little to stop it when Mr. Aquino was yanking the cork loose.

Topics: Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno , Akbayan Party-list Rep. Tom Villarin
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