Leni's prediction: Does she truly believes she is to be ousted soon now that Sereno is gone?

Thursday June 21, 2018 ()

Some time back, Maria Leonor Robredo predicted that she would be the next target for removal from office if Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is successfully ousted. Now that Sereno has been removed for good by her own colleagues in the high court, I'd like to know if Robredo is serious and not just peddling fake news in order to elicit sympathy.

There actually is a striking similarity between the case of Sereno and that of Robredo. In both instances, it is the same Supreme Court that will ultimately decide their fate.

The high court removed Sereno by deciding on the quo warranto petition filed against the chief justice by Solicitor General Jose Calida. The same court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, will get to decide the election protest filed against Robredo by former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. – if it ever reaches them, that is.

In both cases, Congress was left out of the equation because neither Sereno nor Robredo became the subject of impeachment. While both of them faced impeachment complaints (with Sereno actually being impeached by the House), no trial was accorded them in the Senate.

Bongbong Marcos protest

Instead, both impeachable officials underwent trials in the Supreme Court, whose decisions cannot be appealed to a higher authority or in any other venue. The tribunal, often derided as the weakest of all three branches of government, is clearly proving to be the most powerful these days.

And soon, the highest court in the land will be headed by a magistrate chosen by President Rodrigo Duterte. And with Sereno gone, the balance of power between the three groups in the tribunal (if classified by the president who appointed them) could shift inexorably in the current administration's favor, if you believe Robredo.

The fact that the Supreme Court will soon have a chief justice handpicked by Duterte is what's been giving Robredo sleepless nights, I think, whether or not she has a factual basis for making that conclusion. Given her stormy history with Duterte and Duterte's affection for the Marcos family, I can understand why Robredo feels like she will soon be removed by the high court like Sereno was.

But the reality is, while Sereno was so obviously detested by her colleagues, who worked mightily to oust her, Robredo has been getting nothing but love from the justice in charge of her case. The vice president has so successfully stymied the Marcos protest, which is still getting nowhere more than two years after it was filed, to the point where it is now truly uncertain if the complaint will be resolved by the time she steps down from office in 2022.

The credit (or the blame, if you want) for this sad state of affairs goes to the ponencia in the Marcos protest case, Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa. Caguioa, a former Ateneo classmate of Noynoy Aquino, who appointed him to the high court, seems impervious to calls for him to act expeditiously in the election protest case or, if he can't, to step aside and let someone else who can resolve it take over.

Caguioa, of course, ended up with the Marcos case at a time when his faction of the court (the Noynoy appointees, to include Sereno and Associate Justice Marvic Leonen) were still on the ascendant. Right after the 2016 elections, when the protest was filed, it seemed like Sereno would stay on as chief justice for at least three more presidencies, as her term of office stipulated.

At the time, most people were even doubting if the younger Marcos had the attention span required to ensure that his protest would not end up like those that went before. After all, virtually everyone who filed an election protest in the past did so only for appearance's sake, to remain in the national conversation long enough until the next election.

Of course, Marcos has already proven that he is in this until the end, which is why, despite Caguioa's herculean efforts, the recount is proceeding at the glacial pace that we've grown accustomed to. And now that Sereno is gone, perhaps Caguioa will realize that he might as well start working on the case that he was so lucky to have ended up with in the first place.

As I've said several times before, Caguioa doesn't have to do anything except make sure that the Marcos protest case is resolved as quickly as possible, no matter who is eventually proclaimed the victor in the 2016 vice-presidential race. Whether the PET finds in favor of Robredo or of Marcos is not as important as getting the whole court to decide in order to lay this issue to rest.

But as it is, Caguioa, judging by the overly relaxed pace of his supervision of the recount, is merely playing into the hands of those whose strategy it is to delay the resolution of the election protest. And when I last checked, the party that wants a quick and final ending to the case is not Marcos but Robredo, through her lead counsel.

How difficult is it to complete the recount of the votes cast in Camarines Sur province anyway, regardless of what percentage of shading has been done to the individual ballots? When will the revisors in Caguioa's employ ever get to recounting the votes cast in Iloilo province, so that they may proceed to going over the ballots from Negros Oriental, the third and final province that is the subject of the Marcos protest?

As I said in the beginning, I'd like to know if Robredo truly believes that she is going to be ousted soon or if she's merely engaging in yet another attempt to gain sympathy for her cause by playing the victim of a Duterte-Marcos "conspiracy". Because I don't think she can claim that the removal of Sereno is going to signal her own defeat in the electoral protest case that has gone almost entirely in her favor so far.

I don't know if Sereno's removal will have any effect on Caguioa, who has turned a deaf ear to demands that he gets cracking on the protest case against Robredo. This is a Supreme Court justice, after all, who thinks nothing of sitting on a case that the entire nation wants to see a resolution to, either way.

If Caguioa had any sense of propriety at all, he would never have accepted the Marcos protest case in the first place, since he was appointed to the court by the head of the political party that has a stake in Robredo remaining in office. And given Caguioa's voting record in the high court (where he has sided almost exclusively with the Aquino-appointed minority that used to be led by Sereno), he should have given the Marcos case to someone else long ago, citing his own political leanings and obvious conflict of interest.

But the question really is: Will the removal of Sereno light a fire under Caguioa, who will then stop playing the willing accomplice to Robredo's lawyers' strategy of delaying the Marcos protest?

I wish I could say that it will, just like Robredo so confidently predicts her own removal now that Sereno is gone. But I don't think so.

I think Caguioa is hell-bent on playing the role of spoiler in the protest case, which very conveniently ended up in his office. And that Robredo is, as usual, only playing the victim card.

Sources:

  • Robredo's prediction, Jojo Robles, June 21, 2018, The Manila Times

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