Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Challenge to Harry Roque: how to convince his boss to process thoughts and ideas first before articulating them in public. On CJ Sereno's impending impeachment in House, it's utterly reprehensible to deprive her of right to counsel---her inalienable right as Filipino under the Constitution

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque in consultation with President Duterte 
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Ma. Lourdes Sereno

Last Friday evening, Nov. 24, my longtime friend, business journalist Tony Lopez, founder of BizNews Asia, celebrated the 16th anniversary of his unsurpassed magazine as well as his 69th birthday at the EDSA Shangri-la Plaza Garden Ballroom. It drew many business and industry moguls, among them Ramon Ang of the flagship San Miguel Corporation, Tessie Sy-Coson of the SM/BDO empire, Helen Yuchengco-Dee of the RCBC Group and many others. Also attending the very successful event were a number of Cabinet members, among them controversial new presidential spokesman Harry Roque and Budget Secretary Ben Diokno.


Harry Roque was tapped to hand out the award trophies to the businessmen being honored, and he obliged folks’ requests for photos. I found Roque, a former human rights lawyer and UP law professor---quite affable despite his initial threat to throw hollow blocks at his boss’ critics and his seeming propensity to draw flak for his various moves.  While we were posing for photos, I managed to advise this controversial official to persuade his boss to subject his thoughts to some badly–needed processing first, before opening his mouth.

If Mr. Duterte's statements could thus be moderated, Roque’s difficulty would be considerably reduced, as it's the President's propensity to shoot off before processing his thoughts and pronouncements that invariably gets him into trouble---and his spokesperson in a furious bind. Unfortunately, judging from Harry Roque’s non-verbal comment on my observation (he just rolled his eyes upward), it seems impossible to even try to straight-jacket the President on his pronouncements.  

The problem with poorly processed presidential utterances is that foreign business prospects could be dampened, as the political picture here projects an unstable climate, to begin with. Mr. Duterte often does verbal political somersaulting---saying something outlandish and then reversing himself and with furious damage control afterwards.  Such impression of political instability is very harmful for business. 


Take the case of the situation in the metropolis and several recent developments. The MRT situation remains a mess, with a whole phalanx of officials from the Aquino administration charged by the Ombudsman for what seems clearly an anomalous situation there. As Buhay Party-list Rep. Joselito Atienza put it in our recent dzRH  “Radyo Balintataw,” it’s wrong trains for the existing tracks, or wrong tracks for the new trains. He follows this with a query: “Could you imagine a father buying a toy train for his son without even testing if the tracks fit?

That’s what happened to the MRT trains, except that that deal cost many billions now wasted. Meanwhile, these trains daily service around half a million people in Metro Manila who suffer daily Calvary because of periodic breakdowns. Passengers walking on the tracks to get back to the street is a frequent but pathetic sight. Once a compartment even disengaged and a female passenger even lost her arm.  So dangerous have those trains become.  

Their poor condition has become the butt of jokes---the Filipino way of coping indeed. At BizNews Asia’s Anniversary, guests at our table compared notes on how long it took them to EDSA Plaza. On my way there I saw incredibly long queues for trains at the Shaw Blvd. MRT station crossing. It is hard to see the silver lining here, as shutting down the MRT for repairs, as is being proposed, could bring even more monstrous problems. 


In the House of Representatives, the impeachment move against Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno appears to gain enough momentum. Should SC Associate Justice Teresita de Castro and reportedly also Justice Francis Jardaleza appear before the House to testify on the complaint against the CJ, this could clinch the move to impeach her. The trial in the Senate, however, would result in a big telenovela that would grip the nation anew and divide the people.  

There has been a move brewing for some time now to also impeach Ombudsman Conchita Morales, although this does not seem to gain as much support as the move vs. CJ Sereno. Some House members, however, are AGAINST impeaching the two women, and among them is Buhay Party-list Rep. Joselito Atienza. He maintains that the emotional costs to the nation of impeaching such high officials would be so great that it could be a “pyrrhic victory for either side.” No winners.  I agree.


CJ Lourdes Sereno is being accused of a number of impeachable offenses, which would be left to the impeachment  court---the Senate---to determine, should the House impeach move prevail. In this connection, court insiders note that there seems to be a big difference between the attitude of Supreme Court officers and personnel toward the late CJ Renato Corona, who was impeached and convicted in 2011, and toward CJ Sereno now. 

They point out that in the process of obtaining records and documents pertaining to supposed charges against the high magistrate on the carpet, it was far more difficult to obtain such records in the case of Corona, than it is now in the case of CJ Sereno.


This would seem to point out that the late CJ Corona was more popular with court personnel than the current chief. Be that as it may, I personally find it condemnable that CJ Sereno is being deprived by the House leadership of her constitutional right to counsel, in the prospect of an impeachment. 

The Constitution guarantees the right of every Filipino to counsel, and Lourdes Sereno should be no exception. With Justices de Castro and Jardeleza being bruited about as possibly appearing in the House to testify against Sereno, it would obviously be outright demeaning to the Chief Justice's office for her to directly cross-examine either or both of her colleagues on their testimonies against her, as her accusers are demanding.

LIke every Filipino, CJ Sereno should be given her constitutional right to be represented by counsel.