Two things happened on the way to the forum. Jesse Robredo died in a plane crash and Malou Sereno was appointed Chief Justice. One was a tragedy, the other, it is said, a triumph.
While the death of Robredo was a loss to the nation, it is a victory if we use the moment to renew ourselves as a people. But for that we must keep Jesse’s vision alive.
Jesse’s life will be incorporated into the school curriculum. A book might be written, a documentary made, a statue erected, a plaza named. Are these enough to hold his memory and the principles he embodied? I think we need more than that.
For a start, as a community we should repay Jesse for what he gave us in his work, his values and his life; by ensuring his family is provided for. I for one would be happy to contribute to a credible blind trust established for this purpose. We must show the world we take care of our own.
Second, we need to institutionally nurture and position young leaders in politics and government, promising men and women who can compete against the scions of the entrenched interests for the public vote. We already have some -Rissa Hontiveros, Neric Acosta, Grace Padaca- but they are not enough. We need a new generation to populate not only the legislature but the civil service. The Liberal Party working with the NGOs should make this happen, preferably in time for 2016.
Thirdly, we need to convince Leni Robredo to assume the mantle left by her husband and run for the Senate in 2013. She could re-energize the political base to effectively compete against the money, smarts and influence of the other side. A lawyer, she already is doing advocacy work so it would not be totally new ground.
Lastly, we need a new DILG Secretary who is worthy of Jesse’s legacy. Mar Roxas has reportedly just been appointed to the post. He will require the wiles, toughness and leadership to run this most political of Cabinet positions.
The appointment of Mrs. Sereno as Chief Justice has been widely hailed as a triumph for reform and transparency with a small siding of independence. She has the passion and the integrity the nation is looking for in a Chief Magistrate.
As the youngest in the group, Sereno’s appointment means none of the sitting judges can ever aspire for the top position. This must have demoralized some. Can she get her colleagues to follow her? The first signs are not encouraging.
Her peers, Justice Peralta and ex-Justice Hermossisima, did not vote for her in the JBC nominations, the only ones in the panel not to do so. This should have told us something.
Despite Malacanang’s efforts, only four Justices attended Sereno’s oath-taking: Justices Bienvenido Reyes and Estela Perlas-Bernabe, both P-Noy appointees; Mariano del Castillo (he with the plagiarism case and therefore possibly needing all the goodwill he can muster), and Martin Villarama. This “boycott” of the proceedings could be a harbinger of things to come.
The Chief Justice does not currently have the votes to implement full-scale reform. There still remain in the Court at least seven Justices, one short of a majority, who in the past have largely voted against the P-Noy Government. The question is how Carpio will vote. He understandably could be feeling slighted by his being by-passed. He was the natural heir, he commanded the most JBC votes, he is legally competent and consistently worked for change.
Carpio is too big a man to act against his oath and personal values but he should not be taken for granted. The first item on Serenos’s –and might I add the President’s- agenda should be to soothe Carpio’s feathers. Even with the appointment of a pro P-Noy Justice to fill the vacant seat in the Court, Carpio has the swing vote and the respect of many of his peers to sway the body one way or the other.
Sereno will hopefully bring her colleagues around – time and position are on her side- but it will not happen without some wisdom and serious hand-holding. For one she might want to avoid any sense of over-righteousness or the temptation to bring her case to the people. What happens in Vegas should stay in Vegas.
In any case what is done is done. The President made the call and it was his to make. Whether it was the right one only time will tell.