Chief Justice Malou Sereno is having some difficulty settling in.
Her appointment was widely hailed except in her backyard where it most counts. Two of her peers in the JBC did not vote for her, nine of her co-Justices boycotted her oath-taking and seven her first flag raising ceremony as Chief Magistrate. There is a campaign questioning her psychological capacity to lead the institution (A similar query, incidentally, was raised of P-Noy during the Presidential campaign and he has turned out just fine). The JBC psychological report ostensibly cited her “religious preoccupation”.
A good number of Justices seem to take umbrage that the youngest among them was appointed Chief. This dooms any prospects of their ever reaching this position. They may believe Sereno’s appointment was politically motivated to ensure the President is legally covered post-2016.
There are other sectors who are uneasy with the Sereno appointment. The Church is reportedly concerned that, with her connection to the Palace, the Chief Justice will not give the RH Bill a fair shake once it reaches the Court; which it is bound to do.
The Luisita farmers are allegedly worried Sereno’s appointment will make it more expensive to assume their land rights. She voted in favor of valuing Hacienda Luisita at the higher figure as of 2006 rather than as of 1989. The Court has already ruled 8-6 for the latter valuation and Sereno is wise enough to leave the matter alone.
Malacanang has come out in support of the Chief Justice but there is little it can do if the magistrates continue to be intransigent. She is on her own. In the meantime the nation may have to wait for any meaningful initiatives until the impasse is settled.
The CJ can act independently on certain matters. As ex-officio chair of the Judicial & Bar Council, she can influence the selection of judges at all levels. She also has administrative and disciplinary powers over sitting judges.
However, Sereno will need the support of her peers if she is to successfully put her imprimatur on the “Sereno Court” particularly on judicial processes and key decisions. Here are some things she might do:
First, prove her clout by securing the budgetary funding the Court has been fighting for. This was a bone of contention with the Palace when Corona was CJ. The money will allow her to upgrade facilities and raise personnel benefits. This will win her points with her ground troops if not with her generals. The Palace is now likely to write the checks.
Second, come up with a plan. The road map should establish benchmarks on which performance can be measured e.g. number of cases closed; a timetable and the way to get there. The plan should incorporate best practices from other judicial systems. She might hold a Judicial Summit to jump-start the program.
Three, publicly give her colleagues credit where credit is due. The Court recently approved new affidavit rules recommended by Justices Carpio and Abad. Sereno should acknowledge them.
Four, replace “I” and “me” with “we” and “us”. In particular she should refrain from further allusions to the Almighty and his designs for her. Her claim that God anointed her raises unnecessary complications like: Has anybody checked with Him? Did the Man violate the division between Church and State? Will atheists feel shortchanged that a non-existent deity appointed their Chief Justice? Has P-Noy finally attained divine form?
Sereno needs to reach out to her colleagues in humility and respect. She should show she is not only the servant of the people (or of the Lord) but also of the Court. She should dispense with the cloak of righteousness or sense of entitlement that hers is divine providence. It is bad enough for certain Justices to have been bypassed as Chief without now being told that God had a hand in it.
The key to moving forward is Justice Carpio. If he is on board most of the others will follow.
Sereno is a decent woman on whom a mantle has been placed. She will grow into her position and time is on her side. Was it unfair that at least one other equally deserving but more senior person was bypassed? Arguably yes. Should precedence and tradition have been honored? All other things being the same, yes.
Yet Sereno did not compromise her principles nor unduly lobby for the position. It was simply handed to her, not by God, but by the President as he is constitutionally entitled to do. P-Noy, her batchmate in Ateneo, just likes her.
So if there are any complaints send them to Malacanang.