I MET HER for the first time on March 22, 2013, the day after my father died. She had come to pay her respects, and she did so without the fanfare that usually drapes celebrities.
She sat in front and immediately engaged my mom and brother in conversation. I remember that she was dressed simply but smartly, and comported herself with the calm confidence of a person at peace. I was impressed that she was not impressed with herself; neither was she self-deprecating. She spoke with warmth and charm, and completely bowled over my then 9-year old niece. Before she left, she posed for a selfie with my niece and wrote an empowering message in her slum book. I don’t remember it verbatim, but it encouraged her to break ceilings and reach her potential. She closed the note with “Gurl power!” and her autograph. She departed as quietly as she came.
I met Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno for the second time last week. Much had happened to both of us in the intervening period. In her case, the past year has been especially ravaging; but looking at her, you wouldn’t guess it. She has slimmed down and looks fighting fit. Though she joined us after working hours, she was vital and sparkling. And she spoke with a passion that roused.
She came to meet her supporters and let us know how she was coping, perhaps answer a few questions about the impeachment proceedings. I don’t know what the others expected, but I half-feared seeing a tired martyr. It’s perfectly natural. Who wouldn’t wither from the relentless bashing?
Have you watched the sessions in the House? Nothing is spared. The pharisees of the Committee on Justice have made everything fair game. In the guise of their “rules,” they have denied her basic rights, they allow her no representation, and they grant her accuser enormous leeway despite the paucity of his allegations.
Told that Sereno’s tax records were in order, Justice Committee head Rey Umali mandated BIR deputy commissioner Arnel Guballa to dig up something, and quick. Umali, who in January announced that the impeachment was a “done deal,” is anxious to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate in the next few weeks. Guballa’s a team player. “I will try my best to come up with a proposed deficiency or whatever we can find regarding the income that the Chief Justice had made,” he responded.
To top it all, because they’ve nothing lurid to hurl, they faith-shamed her and her staff. Watch Gwen Garcia’s disdain as she questions Atty. Jocelyn Fabian:
In the House Committee on Justice, the scales are tilted so heavily against Meilou Sereno that Lady Justice arcs like Pilita Corrales.
But she is aptly named Sereno. None of the injustices of the past months has cracked her composure. Larry Gadon and the philistines in the House haven’t made a dent.
ELEVATE THE DISCOURSE
She says she is too busy to indulge her woes. “God will take care of my problem; I will take care of my problem. I will bear my pain privately and deal with it in prayer and in my quiet time. But I will not impose my pain on the Filipino people. I will not take up time that I must spend working for their cause.”
She is committed to judicial reform and has instituted innovations that have increased the courts’ productivity. Among these are the ECourt and Hustisyeah! programs that have significantly cleared dockets nationwide.
She says she has decided to break her self-imposed silence because it is necessary to elevate the national discourse. “Hindi ito ang Pilipino…galit, nagmumurahan. Ang Pilipino gumagalang.”
She said that although the impeachment involved her individually, it is ultimately about the nation because of the precedent it would set if left unchecked. The manner in which she is pilloried, the denial of her constitutional rights, and the mood of impunity that empowers her persecutors herald a more malignant oppression that may fetter us all. For this reason, she will fight.
She is prepared for the inevitable, and she is ready for the Senate. She welcomes the opportunity to be heard. She trusts that there, her rights will be respected. She prays for wisdom and puts her faith in God. She awaits her vindication. The truth is on her side.
I believe her.
This woman, who constantly endures vilification in the House, the envy and animosity of colleagues, and the various falsehoods being peddled as truth, is convinced that justice will prevail. And because of that, she commits herself to working for the future.
On a regular day, she attends to administrative matters until 3 pm and only attacks her caseload after that. Still she maintains a healthy output and is intent on keeping it up until she retires in 2030. She sees an improved judicial system where citizens will not have to waste away while waiting for their cases to be resolved. In fact, this is one reason why she refuses to coddle her pain. ‘‘Ι will not spend time on my personal issues if that means a Filipino will spend another day in jail.”
She is largely unknown, often disliked, and frequently distrusted. But those who do so have not met her, have not heard her, and have not understood her cause. In the past months, Gadon and the majority members of the House Committee on Justice have ruthlessly demonized her. Their actions must be judged against the stark facts of her professional record. What they have done vs. what she has done. The contrast is compelling. The time is nigh. To the Senate let us go.
So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”…
At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?” Daniel answered, “May the king live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.” – Daniel 6:16,19-22