Sereno to grads: Stand up amid threats to democracy

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IN HER commencement address, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno (AB EC ‘80) tackled President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao, following the attack of the Maute Group in Marawi City last Tuesday, May 23.

President Duterte has also warned that martial law may be extended to the whole country if the terrorist threat continues.

The chief justice recognized that “the powers to declare martial law, and suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus” are granted to the president under the 1987 Constitution. “Suffice it to say, that the martial law power is an immense power that can be used for good to solve defined emergencies,” Sereno said.

However, she warned that martial law, “when abused, can result in oppression.” Sereno attributed the fears of some people regarding Duterte’s martial law declaration to what happened during the Marcos regime. She cited various cases that detailed the Marcoses’ corruption and abuse of power.

“Will this martial law declaration bring back the human rights violations and the depredations that characterize the martial law regime of 1972?” she said.

Sereno explained that the answer to this question “depends” on whether institutions such as the Congress, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the Judiciary, as well as the Filipino people, would do their part in preventing the atrocities of martial law from happening again.

‘Do not be discouraged’

The chief justice also exhorted the graduating batch of 2017 to “stand up” and “give ‘one big fight’” amid the “grave and blatant threats” to human rights and democracy.

“These are times when everything [that] can be shaken is being shaken, when institutions are challenged to their very foundations, and basic ideas of decency and human dignity are being violated with great impunity,” she said.

“More than merely ruminating on the idea of justice, I call on each of you to confront the common injustices of our society and seek to address them. I urge you to speak out with truth even against the overwhelming tide of popular opinion, and reach out to the oppressed and disenfranchised,” she added.

Sereno also alluded to the public’s reaction over the rising number of extrajudicial killings from the Duterte administration’s war on drugs. “The culture of impunity is on the rise. People are pressured to favor the easy choice over the right choice, expediency over due process, unlawful termination of human life over rehabilitation,” she said.

Despite this, Sereno advised the graduates to not become discouraged, given that the values they inculcated in the Ateneo have prepared them to take on the challenges of today’s society. She recalled how Ateneans have been at the forefront of relief operations during calamities, as well as protests against Marcos’ burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani last November.

“To be a person for others is to commit to a just and noble cause greater than oneself. Know that being a person for others and standing for human rights, justice, and democracy are one and the same. To stand for human rights is to value others’ freedoms as much as you value your own,” she said.

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