Saturday, December 10, 2022

Faith & Judging

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Reformed Gadfly

Gilbert Augustin Ganir

Last Thursday, Mme. Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno addressed the Silliman community at the Luce Auditorium for an academic convocation. Somewhere along her speech, I was reminded of what Carnegie from the film The Book of Eli said:

“It’s not a book! It’s a weapon… It will give us control of them… People will come from all over—they’ll do exactly what I tell ‘em if the words are from the book. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. All we need is that book!”

Carnegie was talking about the only remaining copy of the Bible in a fictional post-apocalyptic world. But his point is real and true. It was clear that Chief Justice Sereno, as the head of the judiciary, understands Carnegie’s point all too well when she said, “The authority to pronounce what is right from wrong is power.” You can incessantly argue for moral relativism, but it remains an undisputable fact of practicality: whoever gets to call what is right and wrong wields power.

It is a power vested in the judges and the lawyers, who are either too easily seduced by it and use it as a weapon of oppression like Carnegie or are sincere but careless with it like an infant with a gun. With her serene voice, she made an admonition to those who are thinking of entering the Bar: “If your heart is not submitted to a higher purpose—if your heart is only confined to making a demi-god out of yourself, please reconsider.”

Her reward was a rare standing ovation.

The greater point, however, is not that prospective lawyers or judges should understand the responsibilities of the legal profession. Or that they should not be seduced by power. That is something that chief justices would ordinarily say. What made Chief Justice Sereno extraordinary was something that was rather unexpected.

She made a fervent categorical statement of faith: “I am who I am because of my faith in Christ.”

And all of a sudden, the convocation became more than just academic.

It is likely that the members of the audience each took something different from her speech. Some may have appreciated her mild didacticism. The younger ones would have been thankful for her simple metaphors. Others may have gone to the convocation simply because she is the Chief Justice. For me, the significance of her visit lies in the fact that, through her words, one could grasp what worldview she subscribes to—and impliedly, her character.

The truth is that, when everything was said and done, the Luce audience did not just applaud to a great impromptu oratory piece. Whether they knew it or not, they applauded also to what could be the sincerest Christian sermon ever preached in that famous hall. She endeared herself to the audience perhaps because, aside from her natural warmth, her exhortations did not have the tenor of a judge. After all, there are more judgely things to say than “remember the man who gave himself on the cross,” “Christ died so that we may live,” and the like.

These are theologically-charged terms that a woman of her expertise, I presume, would not dare use without purpose, because these things are out of the ordinary and because it is rare for someone of her intellectual calibre not to know what she is talking about. And then there was her tone and pace—soothing but dead serious. The overall impression really is that she is righteously scared of God. There was a large pool of legal topics she could have talked about, but in the end, she talked more about faith than the law.

It seems that it is because of her faith that she can boldly face the challenges that come with being one of the youngest and the first ever woman to take the seat of Chief Justice right after a dark period in the history of the judiciary. No doubt, a special burden will be on her, both from within herself and without, to follow through with this display of religious conviction. But that is a good thing for the judiciary. The sensitive conscience of a Christian works towards his own benefit and that of others. Thankfully, there are good people around her to share in her faith, like Deputy Court Administrator, Jenny Lind Aldecoa- Delorino (daughter of past SU President and Court of Appeals Justice Venancio Aldecoa Jr., who is himself a lucid and commanding preacher).

This soul will pray for her, too.

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