By: Jullie Y. Daza
IN the auditorium 10 chief justices of ASEAN were gathered to listen to a piano concerto. A New York-based banker and pianist, son of a former chief justice, was the star of the evening. There was a lady, dressed in black from head to toe, acting as both VIP guest and host, who turned a few heads.
As I later told ex-CJ Art Panganiban, it was something of a surprise to see a high government official attending a high-brow cultural event. For the locals in the audience who did recognize her as Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, her smiles were warm and gracious.
Who’d have thought that ASEAN 2015 would come back to haunt her two years later, courtesy of a certain Larry Gadon who’s now asking Congress to impeach her for what lawyers call “unimpeachable” crimes, including living an extravagant lifestyle (as in that chief justices event).
As a woman with dazzling academic and professional achievements to her name – boon or bane? – she has presided over the highest court for the last seven years with 13 more to go – that’s two future presidents thrown into the bargain, and she’s only 58.
While Congress treats impeachment complaints as a numbers game, CJ Sereno’s “volunteer” spokesmen say she is “not the type” who will rally her employees to wear armbands or chant her name during coffee breaks. Indeed, she’s leaving the defending and the speaking to the law firm of Alex Poblador and counsels Jojo Lacanilao and Aldwin Salumbides.
The CJ and her spokespersons belong to the same church. They believe in their principal’s integrity and they have faith in their knowledge of the law: The purchase of the P5 million armored Land Cruiser, “her first car as CJ,” was approved en banc by the Court. So was the P2.6 million budget for an ASEAN event in Boracay with the ASEAN justices, where she saved the court P146,000 on a discount. Her SALN did not include the P30 million paid her by the Solicitor General after overcoming PIATCO and Fraport, as the case was concluded years before she applied to the SC.
On the personal side, CJ Sereno’s son is her confidential lawyer in the court, and it is likely that she belongs to a higher tax bracket than her husband, a trader. Mr. Salumbides claims she wears a Timex and she has a weakness for pink blazers and T-shirts. Atty. Lacanilao said she’s been heard to bewail how she’s had to lead a “semi-monastic life.”