I did not start this trouble,” declared Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno before a gathering of supporters at the University of the Philippines yesterday. “As I said last week, why don’t they want to finish this? I haven’t even started to give my side. If I resign, then I’m just paving the way for another victim.”
And that victim, she implied, is not just the next official to earn the President’s ire, but the very principles of the institution she serves: the Supreme Court (and by extension the entire judiciary) and the proverbial “rule of law.”
Sereno was responding to calls for her resignation issued in statements by Supreme Court employees and the judges’ association. After months of hearings, which the “Chief” refused to grace with her presence, the House committee on justice last week found “probable cause” in the impeachment complaint filed against her. The entire House is expected to vote on the complaint in May, and it seems the result is a foregone conclusion. This paves the way for an impeachment trial in the Senate which will most probably take place by the end of July.
What’s puzzling is that the Chief Justice’s detractors, including the Solicitor General, some of her fellow justices and judges, and employees don’t seem to want the case to “move on.” Instead they are seeking Sereno’s instant dismissal from office, either through an action of the Supreme Court itself or resignation on her part.
But the Chief Justice, who had kept the customary dignified silence of a magistrate before the House committee vote, has gone on the offensive. “I will fight this while I have the strength to do so,” she told her supporters. To calls asking her to step down so that “peace” would reign in the judiciary, she asked for their understanding, inquiring: “What kind of peace will we enjoy without justice?”
Clearly, the Chief has made up her mind to “gird her loins” and prepare for a bruising battle, not just in the Senate, but also with all her foes in and out of the courts. Sereno is but the latest woman to come under the Duterte administration’s scrutiny and nefarious intentions. And in this she is fighting not just for her survival in office but also for the survival of our institutions — indeed, the survival of democracy.
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Another woman who has earned the President’s ire is no other than Vice President Leni Robredo. But despite her marginalization in the Duterte administration, the VP continues to do her work silently and effectively, and to lend her influence in matters that most concern those who need her attention: the poor, women, and children.
Celebrating International Women’s Day last March 8, the Office of the Vice President along with the local office of the UNFPA, the United Nations’ reproductive health and rights agency, held simultaneous “sharing sessions” with young women and girls at UP Visayas in Iloilo, and in Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.
The dialogues are part of a campaign called “Babaenihan,” a fusion of the local terms for “woman” and “group cooperation,” meant to raise awareness on “the urgency of addressing teenage pregnancy through investments in education, health and economic opportunities.”
“This International Women’s Day, let’s remember that women and girls have innate strength that grow even more when they get the love and support that they need from their community,” Robredo said.
The urgency to address the needs of young women is underscored by the fact that the Philippines is the only country in Southeast Asia where teenage pregnancy rates are not falling. By age 19, said the UNFPA, citing findings, one in five girls is a mother. This impacts not just the girl’s life and future (by cutting short her education), but even imposes heavy economic costs on the country.
As part of the Babaenihan Campaign, dialogues were held at the national and community levels in Pampanga, Palawan, Camarines Sur and Manila.
Fighting in the trenches in the face of political persecution and against social ills, our women leaders are showing us the way in this Women’s Month!
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