Defy + Dissent + Break = Recipe for a Modern Day Heroine
The Gods of Padre Faura (also known as the Arbiters of Right and Wrong) welcomed its 24th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court last August 24, 2012 when President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino made a historic appointment that changed the course of the Philippine judiciary. Defying traditions by going against judicial seniority, the infamous dissenter, Maria Lourdes Sereno, is the first woman Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the second youngest to be appointed at age 52. Only two years since her appointment in the SC, she bested seven other nominees recommended by the Judicial and Bar Council including then Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio who has been in office for nearly thirteen years. Talk about girl power!
Being the first appointee to the Supreme Court under President Aquino’s term, her appointment was met with questions and raised eyebrows. A minority in the judicial body of otherwise GMA-filled appointed magistrates, Sereno had been known for her dissenting opinions over controversial court cases particularly Arroyo’s travel ban and the compensation for the Cojuangcos over Hacienda Luisita, the former of which she filed a ruling against because Arroyo “allegedly made “inconsistent, and probably untruthful statements,” about her plans to go abroad for medical treatment.” (GMA News, 2011) The latter, on the other hand, accuses Sereno of “being partisan in favor of her appointer.” (Lauzon, 2012)
Fig. 1. Table showing Arroyo’s and Aquino’s appointees in the SC
Minority block member Sereno is outnumbered by eleven justices appointed by Aquino’s predecessor GMA.
Her appointment has stirred a great division in the High Court. “Carlos Zarate, former president of IBP Davao-chapter said, “Her appointment had been controversial. We know for a fact that there’s still division in the high court. Probably not in the collegial cases, but there is. Of course those of us who are on the ground are also watching how that unfolds,” he said.” (Romero, 2013)
Sereno has been making headlines ever since she assumed her position as Chief Justice. Her “order about reopening a [failed] judicial office in Cebu without the en banc’s approval” (Muerenas, 2012) was an issue the media preyed on for days. De Castro had “formally called the attention of Sereno by writing a letter-memorandum raising the concern about Sereno’s order that has yet to get the approval of the court en banc.” (Muerenas, 2013)
”She should step down,” lawyer Troy Mendoza said. “[President Benigno Aquino III] should appoint a new chief justice.” Mendoza said this just a day after Sereno spoke before 3,000 lawyers at the 40th anniversary of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines on January 16.” (Romero, 2013)
Now, hold your horses buddy. Rewind (and rethink) what you just said back there. Step down? Before we jump the gun here, let us give the lady the benefit of the doubt. She is only a year down in her term, give her some credit. (And 17 more years to prove it).
This ongoing opposition by some in her appointment has paved way to an underlying element of sexism. Why should she resign? Is she not fully qualified and equipped to preside over the highest court in the land? Why is her intellectual and leadership capacity questioned? (Ursua, 2013)
Before her, men have long graced the halls of the Supreme Court. Why haven’t we objected about past appointments as strongly as this one?
Would these have been brought up if she weren’t female? (Ursua, 2013)
I’d like to believe that we live in a new age of information and that the plight of women for equal footing in the society wasn’t for naught. It isn’t about succumbing to traditional gender stereotypes anymore. It’s the year 2014, where millenials treat social media like how I treat pizza (couldn’t live without it), learn about their daily news based on trending topics and express their fascination to live every single day like it’s their last with the hashtag #YOLO. Women are outside, making a difference, contributing to society. Modernization did us good.
My feminist instincts have been poked and I could go on and on about women’s rights but I’m not here to impose my views or share my love for pizza but I digress.
Before all else, she was a woman who also had a dream just like you and me.
Who is Maria Lourdes Sereno?
“Despite her family’s humble means, Chief Justice Sereno’s parents were able to nurture in her a passion for learning and personal excellence during her formative years. Her father, a native of Siasi, Sulu, and her mother, a public school teacher, saved what little money they had to buy second-hand books that she would eagerly read. Her appetite for literature and reflection served her well during her primary schooling and enabled her to graduate with honors at the Kamuning Elementary School and Quezon City High School. She was then awarded generous scholarships by the government and several private institutions that allowed her to earn an Economics degree at the Ateneo de Manila University, and a Bachelor of Laws degree at the University of the Philippines.” (Judicial and Bar Council)
After graduating valedictorian at the UP College of Law in 1984, she joined the largest law firm in the country. Wanting to spend more time with her family, she left the firm in 1986 and became a professor at the UP College of Law, teaching Civil and Commercial Law for over 20 years. (Judicial and Bar Council)
Fig. 2. Pie chart showing the schools all fifteen justices graduated from.
Justices Carpio, de Castro, Velasco, Perez, and Leonen also walked the corridors of Melchor Hall, the same way CJ Sereno did. It is a breeding ground for young hopefuls eager to enter the complex dynamics of interpreting the law and decision making.
“Lawyer-academician Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno was appointed on August 16, 2010 as the 169th Justice and on August 24, 2012 as the 24th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Born on July 2, 1960, she is the youngest to be so appointed to the SC in this century. She may also be one of the longest-serving ever, as she is to mandatorily retire in 2030 after serving a 20-year term.” (Judicial and Bar Council)
Fig. 3. Bar graph ranking the justices from oldest to youngest.
Sereno breaks new grounds yet again.
On Judicial Transparency and Separation of Powers
“Sereno has been honest about the weaknesses of the institution she belongs with. In fact, she was the first to expose this and it made her into a head-on collision with then-Chief Justice Corona. [She] had been the first Chief Justice in more than two decades to voluntarily publish her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net-worth (SALN).” (Lauzon, 2012)
What we greatly look forward in the coming years is the full independence of the Judiciary from the influence of the other branches of the government. Sereno must learn to exercise judicial independence; her favor over her appointer, President Aquino, will be placed under the careful scrutiny of the public. Biased-judgment will not sit well with the rest of the magistrates and public trust may never be gained ever again.
CJ Sereno as modern day heroine
Women have come a long way. While slavery and oppression of women haven’t fully eradicated its poison out of society, today we achieve victory as women all over the world finally recognize the extent of their potential as leaders. Gaining seats of authority is not an easy feat and I applaud each one of you who have conquered.
Be a modern day heroine.
Continue to redefine society and break barriers.
Cabacungan, Gil, “First woman Chief Justice,” Inquirer.net, last modified August 25, 2012, http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/257098/first-woman-chief-justice-2.
“Profile,” Judicial and Bar Council, accessed March 14, 2014, http://jbc.judiciary.gov.ph/index.php/about-the-jbc/jbc-members/58.
Mangahas, Malou, “Will ‘Gods of Padre Faura’ bare SALNs at last?” Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, last modified August 26, 2012, http://pcij.org/stories/will-gods-of-padre-faura-bare-salns-at-last/.
Lauzon, Leo, “Philippine Chief Justice Sereno: Defying Gender Stereotypes and Tradition,” World Pulse, last modified September 11, 2012, http://worldpulse.com/node/57922.
“Justice Sereno’s dissenting opinion,” GMA News Online, last modified November 20, 2011, http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/239128/news/nation/justice-sereno-s-dissenting-opinion.
“Luisita farmers fear SC under Sereno will reverse distribution decision,” GMA News Online, last modified August 27, 2012, http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/271301/news/nation/luisita-farmers-fear-sc-under-sereno-will-reverse-distribution-decision.
Romero, Purple, “Sereno faces uphill battle in High Court,” Rappler, last modified January 17, 2013, http://www.rappler.com/nation/19950-sereno-faces-uphill-battle-in-high-court.
Ursua, Evalyn, “CJ Sereno resign? Smacks of sexism,” Rappler, last modified January 23, 2013, http://www.rappler.com/thought-leaders/20162-cj-sereno-resign-smacks-of-sexism.
Merenuas, Mark, “Chief Justice Sereno to face other justices in Tuesday’s en banc meet,” GMA News Online, last modified December 7, 2012, http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/285448/news/nation/chief-justice-sereno-to-face-other-justices-in-tuesday-s-en-banc-meet
Merenuas, Mark, “SC justice to Sereno: Why did you delete my recommendation in TRO vs party-list proclamation?” GMA News Online, last modified May 31, 2013, http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/310850/news/nation/sc-justice-to-sereno-why-did-you-delete-my-recommendation-in-tro-vs-party-list-proclamation.
Avendano, Christine, “Chief Justice Sereno releases her SALN: P18 million,” Inquirer.net, last modified August 31, 2012, http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/261078/chief-justice-sereno-releases-her-saln-p18-million.
Ramos, Marlon, “Bare assets, justices told,” Inquirer.net, last modified May 31, 2012, http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/203809/bare-assets-justices-told.
Requejo, Rey, “Yearender: SC embarks on House cleaning,” Manila Standard Today, last modified December 29, 2013, http://manilastandardtoday.com/mobile/2013/12/29/yearender-sc-embarks-on-house-cleaning/.