[EDITORIAL] #AnimatED: When the Supreme Court harms itself – and us

When the highest court of the land goes through two upheavals in a span of 6 years, we must worry and think this through beyond our angry hashtags. The Philippines has ousted two chief justices in two firsts in its history.

The late Renato Corona was the first chief magistrate to be convicted by an impeachment court, while Maria Lourdes Sereno was the first-ever to be ousted by her own peers in a process that the Filipino public did not even know existed – or could be exercised – prior to May 11, 2018.

Both were appointed to their posts by presidents who did not mind deviating from the norms of the Court.

Former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo named Corona chief justice during the election ban on appointments before the 2010 presidential race, which Benigno Aquino III won. Aquino, on the other hand, plucked from the deepest bench of the Court to make history, naming not only the first woman head of the High Court but one who would spend 18 years – barring death or impeachment – as its 24th chief.

More than how she voted for or against President Duterte, more than her “proclivity to lie, mislead,” more than her “lack of candor and forthrightness” in explaining why she failed to submit her net worth and liabilities statement as a professor of the University of the Philippines, and more than her crafting of a “political narrative which elided her own accountability,” Sereno suffered her Black Friday fate for stark reasons that are now buried in legalese. 

She was removed because she was appointed by a leader who is no longer in power, for a long tenure that any overbearing president considers an insult to his prerogative, and in a Court that shifts in tone and ways depending on where the wind was blowing. 

We are swimming in a political environment that, in the first place, emboldened 8 justices to nitpick from the text of the Constitution and from Sereno’s snooty behavior to empower the unelected to dismiss a chief justice.

From the time the justices washed their dirty linen in public through congressional hearings, held countless media interviews, and appeared in headline-grabbing flag-raising ceremonies, the two principles that made the Court effective – collegiality and respect – were thrown out the window. 

The phrase quo warranto – by what authority do you hold an office? – will never be seen in the same light again. 

The Supreme Court did not only wound itself in the process, it also hurt us who trusted them to stay above the fray and rescue us from this murky partisan well that threatens to gobble up this nation in silence.

What now? 

We could not possibly carry the burden of healing these wounds alone.

We look to the Senate, which was robbed of its constitutional mandate to prosecute and punish an impeachable official. (READ: Senators on Sereno ouster: Black day for justice)

We look to Filipinos who took the profession – and vocation – of law, who need to think more and do more than beautifully-crafted statements in not only defending the law of the land from assault but in making sure future assaults do not happen again. (READ: IBP to appeal Sereno ouster; lawyers called to rise up)

To let this pass as yet another aberration in history is to lose ourselves one more bit, in a string of losses we’ve had to deal with.

If the Supreme Court "committed suicide without honor", as one of its own said, we cannot do the same to ourselves.

If democracy must die sooner or later, it must die with honor. – Rappler.com