Deja vu all over again

As Yogi Berra once said, it’s deja vu all over again. But while I have this uncanny but impossible feeling of being in the same situation before, I worry if perhaps some people just want to make it appear that way—to allow them to perpetrate some old, also eerily familiar skulduggery.

Deja vu engulfed me first after I read about the filing by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno of her reply to the impeachment complaint filed against her in the House of Representatives. Because I closely monitored and covered the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona five years ago, I couldn’t help but think yesterday:

Here we go again. But would the endgame would be the same as it was before, with the country’s highest magistrate being booted out of office by the Senate sitting as an impeachment court?

Sereno’s recourse to the legality of the charges (or the lack of it) is nothing new, having been deployed by her predecessor in 2012. Her call for Congress to respect the independence of a co-equal branch that the judiciary is brought back memories of Corona, as well.

The hiring by Sereno of a crackerjack legal team led by Alex Poblador brought back memories of the great performance of Corona lead counsel, the late Serafin Cuevas, whom I greatly admired, and his own fine array of fellow defense lawyers. Sereno’s declaration that she will not resign also echoed Corona’s, who vowed to fight the charges against him to the bitter end.

But there are also very significant differences between the impeachment of the country’s last two chief magistrates. Foremost of these is the apparent lack of a heavy-handed involvement of Malacañang Palace in the current charges.

Everyone expected President Noynoy Aquino to go after Corona even before he was sworn into office, after all. Aquino was so obsessed with removing Corona that he took his oath of office before then Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales, breaking with the tradition of new presidents being sworn in by the sitting chief justice.

And when the Corona court, in the first year of Aquino’s term, handed the new president two major legal setbacks —voiding his Executive Order Number 1 creating the Truth Commission and ordering the distribution of the farmlands in the Aquino family’s Hacienda Luisita to the farmers tilling them—the chief justice’s goose was well and truly cooked. In the beginning, Aquino may have only wanted Corona ousted because he was an alleged “midnight” appointee of his hated predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Then, as was usually the case with the vindictive Aquino, things quickly got personal. Congress was so scared of not following Aquino’s order to remove Corona that House members didn’t even read the complaint against him, transmitting it immediately to the Senate.

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I don’t see Duterte consumed by the same hatred towards Sereno. In fact, I think it is really House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez who wants to remove the chief justice by impeachment, as he threatened several times in the past when both the high court and the Court of Appeals refused to let him do what he wanted with the case of the so-called “Ilocos Six.”

So I think the impeachment of Sereno is really a House initiative. And this is also probably why the current crop of congressmen, even if they had roughly the same numbers in the majority as the Liberal Party of Aquino once had, decided to forgo with the “creeping impeachment” method used for Corona (and pioneered by the House in 2000, when it impeached President Joseph Estrada) and elected to determine the sufficiency of the complaint in form and substance first.

For the people who want Sereno out, this is not a good omen. After all, the House used the same method in order to dismiss the impeachment complaint against Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista—the official many believed was actually easier to remove, given the preponderance of evidence against him.

If this current House stays true to its penchant of merely being involved in working out Machiavellian deals like it did with Bautista, whose feet were merely held to impeachment flame, I suspect that it may only be interested in working out a similar arrangement with Sereno, who is objectively even less impeachable than the Comelec chairman. I certainly wouldn’t put it past Alvarez and his sidekick (or, as some call him, the real speaker of the House) Majority Floorleader Rodolfo Fariñas.

That’s the more recent instance of deja vu that bothers me. I keep getting the feeling that the House just wants to exact its pound of flesh from the current chief justice, either because she has not acted the way the chamber’s leadership wanted her to in the past or in consideration of some future, Bautista-like “exchange deal.”

Because in the end, as we all learned from the impeachment, conviction and eventual removal of Corona, the process of removing a constitutional official is a political game of numbers that has nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of the impeached person. I hope I’m wrong, because I think that Sereno really did things that should get her removed—but deja vu of the more recent kind reminds me that perhaps I shouldn’t get my hopes up too high.

Not with this House. And not with this House leadership.

Topics: Jojo Robles , Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno , Impeachment
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