BY ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS ON MAY 22, 2018
THIS much can be said. Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno and Maria Leonora G. Robredo have damaged some people’s claim of possessing more intelligence over other citizens. It appears that the desire to defend Sereno and Robredo can lead to the unmasking of credentials.
Many lawyers have questioned non-lawyers like me every time we articulate our opinions on legal matters, more so when our positions contradict their political biases. Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino, the dean of the San Beda Graduate School of Law, a noted legal scholar, has been severely criticized for expressing his opinion supporting the quo warranto petition of Solicitor General Jose Calida against Sereno. Despite his being a well-recognized academic in the field of legal scholarship, whom no less than the Supreme Court has recognized with an appointment to the Philippine Judicial Academy, what was conveniently deployed by his attackers is the fact that he is not a licensed member of the bar. The disdain was so palpable that even un-minted fresh passers of the bar exams, and worse, even law students, have joined the fray in casting aspersions on his ability to render sound legal opinion on Sereno’s predicament.
The same could be said of many people with outstanding credentials, who include academics, scientists, artists, writers and journalists, when they diminish the intellectual and moral standing of an ordinary citizen who expresses support for President Rodrigo Duterte, or for anything or anyone associated with the Marcoses. These people make it appear that in order to earn the badge of honor of being considered as outstanding and as part of the intellectual class, one has to demonize the Duterte and Marcos narratives. This is the elitist imagery that the intelligentsia has impressed upon the younger generations. And this is not just an unfounded allegation but is empirically warranted by the fact that universities and other institutions of higher education have openly appropriated an anti-Duterte and anti-Marcos sentiment, and a pro-Robredo and pro-Sereno stance. Cast in higher intellectualist and moralist discourse of being a fight for democracy and human rights and to protect judicial independence and the rule of law, these are then bannered in statements posted prominently in university gates, walls and electronic billboards, and by statements from their administrators exhorting their faculty, staff and students to express their anti-Duterte and anti-Marcos outrage.
The intellectual class in both academe and the legal profession will always look at people like lawyer Jose Maria Z. Carpio, dean of the College of Law of the Ateneo De Naga University who issued a statement in support of the Supreme Court decision ousting Sereno which he entitled “Integrity, Integrity, Always Integrity” like the way they look at the likes of Fr. Rannie Aquino and me. We are openly pilloried in social media, secretly attacked behind our backs, with some even going to the extent of attempting to pressure the administrators of our academic institutions to have us censured, or even get us fired.
Yet, some people representing this elitist political class are freely hurting themselves by their own actions that tend to cause their unraveling, where their claims to intellectual and moral superiority are exposed as nothing but pretentious claims that stand on shaky grounds.
Take the case of former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay. Also an academic in the legal profession, Hilbay seems to have a habit of speaking in a way that leads people to question his own familiarity with the letter of the law. There is no doubt that Hilbay is clever, when in a past case he successfully argued the doctrine of natural-born citizenship accorded a foundling on the mere basis of the fact that she would have been found in a place with a high probability that her biological parents would have been Filipinos. However, Hilbay seems to have been so immersed in his legal creativity, even emphatically painting Sereno as lazy in his attempt to defend her integrity, that he missed looking into some fine aspects of the law, aside from the fact that he also contradicted himself.
Recently, Hilbay claimed that Sereno can file a quo warranto petition against her successor for usurping a post over which she has a legal right, and she can do this when, in his words, “the political environment changes,” alluding to the expected change in the presidency in 2022. Hoping for a different political climate, Hilbay utterly failed to read the fine print of Section 11, Rule 66 of the Rules of Court. If he had only done so, he would have realized that by 2022, any quo warranto petition that Sereno may file to question the legality of her successor’s appointment would have gone beyond the one-year prescription period.
Hilbay also contradicted himself in his opposition to the quo warranto petition against Sereno. He has been very vocal in arguing that only an impeachment can remove a Chief Justice, and yet now he even entertains the possibility that Sereno can also file a quo warranto petition to oust her successor, who will also be an impeachable official.
But perhaps, nothing could be more contradictory, and utterly inconsistent with claims to being outstanding, than the case of the recipients of The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS) Awards who published a one-page paid advertisement at The Philippine Star, urging the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) to honor the 25 percent minimum shading threshold for ballots in the May 2016 vice-presidential elections. The TOWNS awardees openly accused the PET of belatedly changing the rules. Had these roster of so-called outstanding women, which include well-recognized journalists, scientists and academic researchers the nature of whose work relies on rigorous fact-checking, simply lived up to their being outstanding and looked into the facts of the matter, they would have discovered that they were openly propagating a lie. The PET was not changing the rules, since the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has not issued any single resolution before the May 2016 elections changing the 2010 rule of 50 percent minimum shading threshold. In fact, it is the Comelec that changed the rules only four months after the election, when the electoral protest of former senator Bongbong Marcos was already ongoing.
This is the Sereno-Robredo effect. It is evident when lawyers claiming brilliance forget their law, and when supposedly outstanding citizens awarded presumably for their services to the nation help in propagating a lie to serve a particular political agenda.