Detained Sen. Leila de Lima thinks and acts like ex-de facto Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
In 2018, Sereno was facing two threats to her incumbency. One was her threatened impeachment in the hands of the House of Representatives. The other was her possible ouster by way of a petition for quo warranto filed against her by the Solicitor General.
The record shows that Sereno tried her best to fight the petition for quo warranto by speaking before many fora within and outside the metropolis. During those occasions, Sereno spoke against the quo warranto proceedings lodged against her.
In many of those speaking engagements, Sereno denounced her own court and equated the petition for quo warranto against her as a stealthy attempt by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to remove her as chief justice. She complemented her unkind words about the SC and the President with a sweeping conclusion that her removal from office will inevitably lead to the demise of judicial independence and of democracy itself in the country.
Sereno repeated those statements to the media in the seemingly endless interviews she gave indiscriminately while the quo warranto case was pending.
Of course, Sereno’s self-serving “prophecy” was a dud, but that is not the point. What was highly irregular was Sereno’s behavior both as a magistrate and as a member of the legal profession.
Under the Canons of Professional Responsibility governing the legal profession in the Philippines, a lawyer is expected to treat the SC, or any court of law in the land for that matter, with utmost respect, and to make sure that any criticism lodged against the SC should be couched in decent language. The same Canons mandate that a lawyer should avoid commenting on a pending litigation he is involved in.
In fact, the first Rule in the Canons says it all — “a lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.”
Sereno violated those precepts, and paid the price, as seen in her discharge from the highest judicial office in the country.
The same observations may be said of De Lima.
As a lawyer, De Lima is fully aware of the restraints on her conduct as a member of the Bar imposed by the Canons of the legal profession. Instead of complying with those restraints, De Lima breached them.
Attention is invited to Atty. Jude Sabio, the lawyer who recently withdrew the complaint he filed against President Duterte with the International Criminal Court in 2017. In his ICC complaint (or communication as understood in International Law), Sabio accused Duterte and his family of maintaining links to the illegal drug trade in the country.
Sabio said he withdrew his complaint because he discovered he was just being used by De Lima and ex-senator Antonio Trillanes IV, both sworn enemies of President Duterte, to discredit the latter through the false accusations against the President in the ICC complaint.
De Lima claims that Sabio was manipulated by allies of President Duterte into withdrawing the ICC complaint.
The testimony of Sabio, if true, will be enough to initiate a case for disbarment against De Lima for violating the ethical standards of the legal profession.
Another ground for De Lima’s disbarment is her penchant to tell the media that the cases against her are groundless; that she was virtually denied due process; and that she is the victim of a vindictive President Duterte.
Being a lawyer, De Lima knows she was charged with a non-bailable offense involving illegal drugs, and that her criminal case is currently pending in court, all in accordance with the rules of procedure governing criminal cases in the Philippines.
De Lima’s misleading press statements not only undermine the integrity of the justice system in the country and erode public confidence in the legal system; those remarks became the bases for haughty American senators to ban the entry into the United States of Philippine officials perceived to be responsible for her alleged “illegal detention” in the country. Sen. Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa was their first casualty.
It’s about time De Lima is disbarred for her unethical behavior as a lawyer.