Militant peasant and farmers’ groups yesterday held a protest against newly installed Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno.
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) greeted Sereno’s first day in office at the Supreme Court warning that a reversal of the Hacienda Luisita verdict and anti-peasant decisions will be unacceptable to the peasantry.
“This protest is the peasantry’s baptism of fire for newly installed Chief Justice Sereno and the Aquino court,” KMP deputy secretary general Randall Echanis said.
“Sereno’s 18 years as Chief Justice is tantamount to Aquino’s reversal of the April 24 Hacienda Luisita verdict. Her appointment forms part of the Cojuangco-Aquino’s grand maneuver equal to the non-distribution of Hacienda Luisita,” Echanis added.
Echanis also said that Sereno’s 18 years as chief justice would not be smooth sailing claiming that Sereno will not be free from political attacks.
“Sereno’s appointment was borne out of Aquino’s tyrannical tendencies. She will be very vulnerable to another tyranny from Aquino himself and beyond,” Echanis warned.
Malacañang quickly defended Aquino’s appointee.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said no amount of protesting could influence the public into joining them in going against
new SC leader.
“Those attacks are really water under the bridge. The appointment has already been made. She has taken her oath and whether (the attacks are) coming from the judiciary or not, they have to deal with the new Chief Justice,” Lacierda said, adding the protests are “irrelevant”.
“I think any criticism against the Chief Justice is, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant. It’s not going to sway anyone from removing her from the position of Chief Justice. The constitutional prerogative of the President in appointing Chief Sereno has been exercised,” he added.
Hacienda Luisita farmers reinforced by family members and support delegations from the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura UMA) and the Anakpawis party-list yesterday stormed the SC to lodge a protest action against Sereno.
“In the name of position, Sereno sacrificed the interest of the farm worker beneficiaries of Hacienda Luisita. She sold our cause and became a puppet of the president in return of a juicy and powerful position,” said UMA secretary general Rodel Mesa in a statement.
“The new CJ’s integrity and credibility have already been marred by her prejudice to the President and his relatives who are hell-bent of not giving up Hacienda Luisita. Her position on the case made the farm-worker beneficiaries’ situation from bad to worst. With the compensation that (may) possibly jump to P1 million to P2 million per hectare, it is impossible for the farm- workers to pay their counterpart by way of amortization. This was all happening because of Sereno’s opinion,” added Mesa.
Sen. Franklin Drilon meanwhile yesterday admitted the probability of the senior justices’ resentment over the appointment of a junior associate justice Sereno as CJ, saying the situation is unavoidable under the present circumstances.
But Drilon was quick in defuse the tension, assuring that while the disenchantment is natural and cannot be avoided, “I believe that it is just temporary.”
“There were expectations. You cannot deprive the sitting justices for having to part with the career path (of) being chief justice. We are confident that CJ Sereno will be able to overcome this disenchantment by showing that she can reform the Judiciary. This is a game-changing appointment,” he said in an interview with reporters.
Drilon also defended the choice made by President Aquino in choosing Sereno over seven other “candidates”, pointing out that the Chief Executive has provided a golden opportunity by making this game-changing appointmentment to enable the head of the Judiciary to institute reforms.
“The reforms needed in the Judiciary are basically related to the clogged docket system,” the senator said, adding the huge vacancies which his committee on finance found out in a budget hearing last week in the Senate, remain unattended to by the Judiciary despite the availability of funds.
“For the first time in the political history of our country the CJ will stay for 18 years. The first one I think is 1946. This is important because the reforms in the Judiciary will take time. It takes time, you cannot do it overnight. The Judicial ship must be turned around slowly, because an abrupt change may cause the Judicial ship to capsize,” he said.
“This is an important appointment because it gives CJ Sereno the golden opportunity to be able to reform our Judiciary. You do not expect the more than 500 judicial positions be filled up immediately.
Maybe a five-year program will be needed to fill up all these vacancies. Right not, there is a 26 percent vacancy for the Judiciary, meaning only 74 percent are filled up,” he added.
Drilon also cited the need to review the rules of court and procedure so that it is not availed of or abused by the litigants in order to delay the resolution of cases.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile echoed the sentiments earlier made by Aquino as well as some of his colleagues on the need to institute reforms in the Judiciary within her 18-year term as chief justice.
“When she (Sereno) has the time to show what she can really do for the judiciary, I hope she will really be able to improve the administration of justice in the country especially the courts because they are unlike before, during my time, the judicial body except the Supreme Court was under the Department of Justice.
“I am quite familiar with the level of performance of the judicial system, at least in my time. Now, it is under the Supreme Court. It was transferred under the Supreme Court under the 1987 Constitution and there are some complaints about the way justice is being administered in the country, especially the rendition of decisions...There are always complaints but it is correct to say that this should be looked into in order to erase any doubt in the minds of the public that justice in this country is not evenly administered,” he said.
Enrile refused to comment on the resentment of some SC senior justices who have been bypassed by Sereno or even in questioning her capability in taking on the responsibility of the third highest official of the country.
“I don’t know if there is (demoralization among SC justices). I cannot judge her. First of all, I do not know her well enough and she is new.
“In the case of the first lady Chief Justice of the country, first of all, any person, whether male or female, can be a Chief Justice of the Country. The training is the same for men and women in the law schools, there is no distinction. So, we will see as we move on. I cannot judge her at this moment,” he said.