We should never retreat – Sereno

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno

MANILA — Anticipating more attacks – including possibly from fellow magistrates – as the hearings on her impeachment continue, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno vowed yesterday to “never retreat” in her “fight for the people and the Constitution.”

“For all of you who were unjustly accused, I am fighting this fight. For all of you who were unjustly detained, still in prison, I am fighting this fight. I am fighting, standing with all of you who have suffered harassment, threats, bullying. What we should do is never retreat. We stand with courage, dignity, grace,” Sereno said at a youth forum yesterday afternoon at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.

She said she is unfazed by the testimonies of her Supreme Court colleagues before the House committee on justice, and junked calls for her resignation.

“How can I quit?” she asked, adding that she had a responsibility to the nation to fulfill her duty.

She decried the “lies” and expressed confidence that God is on her side: “As sure as the sun rises from the East and sets in the West… God’s plan will prevail.”

“Those who stand for the truth should not be deprived of rights. We should all listen to the truth and not cover it with lies,” Sereno said in Filipino. “Thank you, my countrymen, who told me that my battle is also their battle.”

Sereno has again appealed for support as she grapples with an impeachment case filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon.

“If you believe in the importance of due process, then let us support judicial reforms,” she said. “This is an opportunity for us to have a grand vision of our future. Let’s tackle the meaning of accountability, independence of the judiciary and separation of powers.”

Sereno’s pronouncements came a day after Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro appeared before the House justice committee to corroborate some of Gadon’s allegations, including her having allegedly tinkered with a high court resolution as well as her creation of an office in violation of the Constitution.

The committee, chaired by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, is trying to establish probable cause to impeach Sereno.

Associate Justices Francis Jardeleza, Noel Tijam and Arturo Brion are also set to testify in the next hearings.

“I must make a stand because this is really a fight for what is good and I am sure that the young people would not want a future where they will see nothing but violence, coarse language, foul charges, baseless accusations, lies upon lies,” she told a gathering of youth and supporters.

“Everything that I did ever since I was appointed as associate justice had not a hint of malice. All the things I did are true to my responsibilities. I went beyond, over and beyond, the normal work load,” added Sereno in Filipino.

She said resigning from her post and allowing herself to be swayed by baseless accusations would send a wrong message to Filipinos, especially the youth.

“If I allow myself to be crushed, who am I to tell you to fight for your future, fight for the country. I do not have the right to tell you that. I must go through this because I must show you what it is to stand for what is right,” she said.

“So long we have suffered indignity, now let dignity have its play. Let us see honor, nobility, wisdom, good and truth,” she added.
Sereno said she refuses to get affected by baseless allegations, including from critics who call her a “liar, faker, a dictator in the judiciary, a person with a bad character and an unpopular” magistrate.

“If I pay attention to these lies and eventually get affected by it, what kind of message will I tell you? (If that’s the case), then I better not tell you to fight for freedom,” she added.

Addressing allegations of corruption, the Chief Justice maintained that she and her family have always led simple lives.

“I want the public to see that I have no attachment to material things so that I can’t be thought of as capable of corruption,” she added.

Sereno said her decision to stand her ground and not back down is a matter that goes beyond her personal battles.

She recalled a commitment to have a feel of the injustices against other people when she accepted a position at the Supreme Court.

The Chief Justice also briefly addressed some of the issues hounding the country, noting the injustice against those killed due to mistaken identity, apparently referring to the killings related to the government’s campaign against illegal drugs.
She reminded Filipinos that nastiness has no place in a country striving for unity and right values.

“What the Constitution wanted is not a nation with a rotten soul, but one that progresses because every person can dream of having a better life,” the Chief Justice added.

“Now if I am being asked to leave out of satisfying an agenda, anger or whatever emotion or reason and without me doing anything, then what would happen to the youth? What message will my resigning send across?” she said in Filipino.

Her determination to fight, she emphasized, is not an “ego issue,” as she considers her position a “sacred trust from God.”

While not directly addressing the ongoing impeachment trial, Sereno said she has found herself in a “perfect storm” and stressed the importance of living in truth amidst the “lies upon lies” that Filipinos are being forced to deal with.

She reiterated the importance of maintaining respect among the three equal branches of government: the executive, legislative and judiciary as enshrined in the Constitution.
She pointed out the judiciary’s role as the conscience of the government in its effort to remain on the straight path.

In her speech, the Chief Justice also took a swipe at the Duterte administration’s war on drugs that she said had entailed abuses and rampant rights violations.

She also cited the common perception that the judiciary system is low and gave assurance that they are working hard to strive for reforms.

The Chief Justice also attended a mass earlier yesterday offered by her supporters.
In a short speech after the mass, the Chief Justice stressed the significance of due process and underscored the reforms made at the judiciary under her leadership.

Earlier, her lawyers had been prevented by the House panel from cross- examining witnesses against her.

They said they would just await trial at the Senate and hope for fairer treatment.