“Fresh start,” “Excellent choice,” “Sereno’s big task”—the headlines were on the appointment of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno. C’mon now. Wasn’t the story that the appointment was so unexpected and shocking that no one, not even any of President Aquino’s most ardent apologists, had expected he would make such an in-your-face decision? Wasn’t it so controversial that nine of the 13 Supreme Court associate justices boycotted the swearing in of their unwanted Chief?
Isn’t it so obvious that Sereno’s real “qualification” was that she was the only nominee Mr. Aquino could be 100-percent sure would do his bidding? She has proven this beyond doubt in the last two years, especially when she outdid Hacienda Luisita’s lawyers in arguing for P10-billion compensation for the President’s clan.
“She is the first, and hopefully the last associate justice and Chief Justice not to have even seen the insides of a courtroom,” a top lawyer wryly commented. “The chances of somebody with her qualifications fairly becoming Chief Justice—without Aquino’s need to appoint a puppet—is the same as your chances of winning the lotto,” another barrister remarked.
A moral, principled person would have resisted the temptation to glorify one’s ego, and decline a post she knows in her heart she isn’t qualified for, in order to avoid the risk of damaging one of the three pillars of the Republic. Yet Sereno—an obscure law professor before Mr. Aquino made her his first associate justice in 2010—rushed to campaign for the post as soon as she was nominated, and quickly set up a Facebook account named “Why Justice Sereno should be appointed as Chief Justice.”
Read her biodata posted there, and it’s the ho-hum life of a lackluster academic, disinterested in some noble cause (in contrast, say, to feminist fighter candidate Katrina Legarda), doing research and writing unremarkable papers here and there as hundreds of law-school instructors do.
Not even a full professor, she’s mediocre, compared to academic candidates like Raul Pangalangan, who not only has a Ph.D. in law from Harvard but two postdoctoral degrees. She wasn’t outstanding enough to be a law-school dean like five other nominees to the post. In the last 10 years, she published only six short articles on legal issues, mostly on commercial law—an embarrassing output for an academic.
Mr. Aquino claimed that he chose Sereno because “she can best reform the judiciary.” But nowhere in her entire career did she show any passionate interest in judicial reform. The only claim for this is the item she listed in her CV: “Principal Consultant, Law and Economics/Project on Judicial Reform (UNDP-Supreme Court).” However, that falsely portrays that she had the principal role in the high court’s historic ongoing reform program, begun in 1998 and managed by the chief justices since Hilario Davide. The program has had hundreds of consultants for almost all aspects of the judicial system in the country, with “law and economics” just one of these.
Sereno’s interest has been in international commercial law, and her major participation in the disposition of justice has been in short, dollar-paying international engagements, providing research on aspects of the Philippine legal system for international bodies.
Her last private posting is an indication of a floundering career: “executive director” of the AIM Policy Center—a misnomer for a moribund unit whose main activity in the past many years has been to organize the press launch of studies of other institutes and scholars.
One would have to fabricate things to spruce up an unremarkable legal career to be deserving of a post in the high tribunal—and she did.
As one of her purported major accomplishments to justify her appointment as associate justice in 2010, Sereno claimed, as the Palace statement put it, that “she was co-counsel with Justice Florentino Feliciano” in the Fraport case before the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes. That claim has been in her biodata posted in the high court’s website, and reported in all news articles on her background.
That’s a lie. Sereno is not among the nine counsels representing the government in the Centre’s records. There weren’t “co-counsels” in that case. The truth is that she was merely the personal legal researcher and documentation lawyer of the 77-year-old Feliciano, and not of the government.
In fact, when she publicly claimed credit for the Republic’s winning the case, the government’s New York-based lead private counsel, White & Case’s senior partner Carolyn Lamm, was so mad that she went to the country to demand that the Solicitor General correct Sereno’s claim. (The government won in the Centre’s first decision in 2007, which was however annulled in 2010, with the case resuming in July 2012.)
Probably realizing that her false claim will be put to closer scrutiny with her nomination as Chief Justice, Sereno deleted it in the curriculum vitae she submitted to the Judicial and Bar Council and posted in her Facebook account.
If she really doesn’t have the qualifications and experience to be in the Supreme Court, then who has been writing—and will write—her judgments in the tribunal? Can she categorically say that she did not consult with Mr. Aquino’s lawyers for her kilometric conclusions, especially in the cases involving the Truth Commission, Hacienda Luisita, and former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s right to travel abroad—which echoed, even amplified, the Palace’s thinking? Has she ever gone against Mr. Aquino’s line?
Mr. Aquino has undertaken a coup against the Republic: He has seized the Supreme Court and installed his factotum.