At a time when the journalism profession is suffering from a bad reputation due to the proliferation of fake news, along comes Stephen Sackur to save the day. Sackur is from the BBC talk show production HARDTalk and is known for asking his guests from around the globe hard-hitting questions. His earlier interview with Philippine Senator Antonio Trillanes in 2017 made the Senator a laughingstock among Netizens after he was exposed by the journalist as a fake democracy advocate. A lot of Filipinos consider Sackur a hero and someone Philippine journalists should emulate. Sackur’s excellent research skills about his subjects was on display once again during his recent interview with ousted Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno.
In his interview with Sereno, Sackur asked Sereno why, after saying initially that she didn’t want to get involved in politics, did she openly criticise Duterte’s policies. Sackur even mentioned that Chief Justices in other countries like the United States and in Western Europe don’t normally meddle in political affairs. As a judge, her move was quite irregular, indeed. She was showing partisan politics when, as a judge, she should have remained neutral. Sereno’s response was a direct attack on Duterte by saying the President was leading the country to a system where “he thought he could disregard the constitutional guarantees” of individuals.
Sereno added that she was forced to remind everyone of the constitution. She justified her criticism of Duterte by saying she is continuing the “fight” for democracy. Sackur then reminded her that proof of the country’s democracy is Duterte winning the election and at the same time telling her that she is only an appointed judge, meaning her mandate did not come from the people unlike Duterte’s. Sackur also reminded Sereno that the minute Sereno decided to criticise Duterte’s policies, she called attention to herself and, in doing so, risked scrutiny. Unfortunately for her, her personal affairs “couldn’t stand up to the scrutiny and real problems were exposed”.
Indeed, if there is a lesson to be learned from Sereno’s ouster it is this: if you are going to criticise someone like Duterte and accuse his moves as unconstitutional, you better make sure you haven’t broken the law yourself. Sereno seems too arrogant to admit she did though. She still insisted that she filed her Statement of Assets Liabilities and Net Worth religiously even when there was no proof she did. She insisted that missing SALNs does not necessarily mean she didn’t file them.
Sereno’s statements against Duterte during the interview justifies why the President considers her an enemy. It was one thing for her to criticise Duterte before the Filipino public, but it was quite another to badmouth him during the HARDtalk interview when he could not defend himself. She made Duterte look bad to the international community by saying he was attacking the judiciary and weakening the country’s democratic institutions. Sereno was equating her removal to an “attack” on the judiciary. That is false. She had to be removed because her appointment was illegitimate. She wasn’t qualified to hold the job. A month after being removed, the judiciary is functioning as normal.
It was a good thing Sackur read up on Quo Warranto because Sereno’s usual arguments like “impeachment is the only way to remove an impeachable official” did not pass. He emphasised that Sereno’s own colleagues lost confidence in her. But of course Sereno tried another lame argument by subtracting the six justices she accused of being “biased” against her. She said that five judges testified against her during the Congressional hearing and the other judge was against her religion. She proudly concluded that in effect, there were only two judges who voted to oust. That is proof she is delusional. Good thing her arguments were dismissed by the presenter.
What is astounding was how Sereno was still insisting that the missing SALNs were not grounds for impeachment. It was a shame that the Sackur was not able to mention Sereno’s predecessor – the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona – who was removed from office for not declaring some of his assets in his SALN. Sereno’s non-filing of SALN is definitely a worse offense than Corona’s. I suppose this detail was unfortunately something that Sackur could not cover due to time constraint in his program. It would have been great if there was another guest from the other side who could rebut Sereno.
While Sereno sounded confident, her responses were weak. She simply kept denying she broke the SALN law and slammed those who were against her by labelling them biased and attacking her.
Towards the end of the interview, Sackur was already hitting Sereno hard probably because he could sense her arrogance. He exposed the fact that Sereno was contradicting herself and was being a hypocrite in her supposed advocating for the integrity and independence of the justices of the Supreme Court while, at the same time, not respecting the decision of the majority to oust her. Sackur wanted her to know that her problem was simple – that she could not accept that her colleagues lost confidence in her integrity. A very painful thing to hear but that is the truth. Her colleagues in the Supreme Court were most likely taking note of her responses during the interview and could very well use it when deciding on her Motion for Reconsideration.
Sadly, Sereno also insinuated that she will not give up her “struggle” even if the Supreme Court upholds their decision to oust her through Quo Warranto. She said a lot of people are now counting on her to continue to uphold democratic institutions and are encouraging her to speak up. That only means she will continue playing the Victim Card and badmouth Duterte and the justices who voted to oust her. She’s not fighting for the people; she’s fighting for her bruised ego.