Philippine judges, court employees call on top justice to resign

Maria Lourdes Sereno, the first woman to head the 15-member Supreme Court, faces impeachment over accusations she concealed wealth by not filing asset declaration statements for several years before she was appointed. (Reuters)
Updated 12 March 2018

Philippine judges, court employees call on top justice to resign

MANILA: A group of judges and four court employees’ organizations called on Monday for the Philippines’ chief justice to step down and make a “sacrifice” to restore peace and order in the judiciary, a plea she strongly rejected.
Maria Lourdes Sereno, the first woman to head the 15-member Supreme Court, faces impeachment over accusations she concealed wealth by not filing asset declaration statements for several years before she was appointed.
Sereno, 57, refuses to quit amid what she calls bullying by “those in power,” which she says is threatening the independence of the judiciary.
“It is time to let go. Please let the judiciary move on,” says a statement from five groups seeking Sereno’s resignation, read during a Supreme Court flag-raising ceremony attended by several judges.
Sereno is disliked by President Rodrigo Duterte and has voted against several of his controversial proposals, including extending martial law in restive Mindanao, and allowing late dictator Ferdinand Marcos to have a grave at a cemetery for national heroes. The Supreme Court allowed both.
Duterte has accused her of being used by opponents who want to overthrow him, but he has denied having a hand in the impeachment of Sereno, who was appointed in 2012 by his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III.
The impeachment proceedings in Congress, which is dominated by Duterte’s allies, “have put the entire judiciary in disrepute,” says the statement, read by the court’s employees’ group head, Erwin Ocson.
The House justice committee last week found probable cause to impeach Sereno. She reiterated on Monday that she would not resign and said other judges had resisted pressure to join the campaign against her, so they could “maintain the dignity and independence of the judiciary.”
“While the call to resign appeals to my love for the judiciary, it is also out of love for the judiciary that I must continue,” Sereno told reporters.
If the House votes to impeach her, the 23 sitting Senators would serve as judges in a trial at the upper house of the bicameral legislature.


A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

Updated 48 min 18 sec ago

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

  • Will give migrants a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes torn apart by partition of 1947

NEW DELHI: Sparsh Ahuja and Ameena Malak grew up listening to their grandparents narrate stories of the partition from 1947.
Ahuja’s grandfather, Ishar Das Arora, was 7 years old when the Indian subcontinent was divided into two by the British, creating India and Pakistan. 
More than 14 million people were displaced at the time, and about one million perished in the fighting that followed.
Arora moved from a Pakistani village, named Bela, to Delhi after living in several refugee camps and escaping the violence.
Meanwhile, Malak’s grandfather, Ahmed Rafiq, moved from the Indian city of Hoshiarpur to Pakistan’s Lahore.
Now in their 70s, both the grandparents yearn to go back home and see the places where they were born and spent their childhoods. 
However, the constant uncertainty in the relationship between India and Pakistan and their old age has made the task of visiting their respective birthplaces extremely difficult.
To fulfill the wishes of their grandparents, and several others who yearn to visit their ancestral homelands, Ahuja and Malak decided to launch Project Dastaan (story).
“What started as an idea for a student project last year at Oxford University became a larger peace-building venture,” Ahuja, the director of the project, said.
Project Dastaan is a university-backed virtual reality (VR) peace-building initiative reconnecting displaced survivors of partition with their childhood through bespoke 360-degree digital experiences.
Backed by the South Asia Programme at Oxford, it uses VR headsets to give these migrants, who are often over 80 years old, a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes. It shows them the people and places they most want to see again by finding the exact locations and memories that the survivors seek to revisit, and recreates them.
“It is a creative effort to start a new kind of conversation based on the direct experience of a now-foreign country in the present, rather than relying upon records and memories from the past,” Ahuja told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan-based Khalid Bashir Rai “teared up after his VR experience, and told us we had transported him back” to his childhood.
“At its heart, the project is a poignant commentary on its own absurdity. By taking these refugees back we are trying to highlight the cultural impact of decades of divisive foreign policy and sectarian conflict on the subcontinent. This is a task for policymakers, not university students. In an ideal world, a project like this shouldn’t exist,” Ahuja said.
Other members of Project Dastaan — Saadia Gardezi and Sam Dalrymple — have a connection with partition, too. Gardezi grew up with partition stories; her grandmother volunteered at refugee camps in Lahore, and her grandfather witnessed terrible violence as a young man.
Dalrymple’s grandfather had been a British officer in India during the twilight years of the British Empire. So scarred was he by the partition that he never visited Dalrymple’s family in Delhi, even after 30 years of them living there.
“I think Dastaan is ultimately about stripping away the layers of politics and trying to solve a very simple problem: That children forced to leave their homes, have never been able to go back again,” Dalrymple told Arab News.
Ahuja added: “The partition projects are a peace offering in the heart of hostility. It is an attempt at creating a wider cultural dialogue between citizens and policymakers of the three countries.”
The project aims to reconnect 75 survivors of the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with their childhood memories, when the subcontinent observes 75 years of partition in 2022.
Project Dastaan is also producing a documentary called “Child of Empire” that will put viewers in the shoes of a 1947 partition migrant, and will be shown at film festivals and museums.