Protesters warn democracy in danger if Filipino justice ousted

Sergio Conner
May 12, 2018

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno's fellow justices have been scheduled to vote Friday on Solicitor-Basic Jose Calida's petition to take away Sereno from the 15-member tribunal for allegedly failing to file statements of property and liabilities as required by regulation prior to now.

About 1,800 protesters gathered to support Sereno outside the court in Manila, where anti-riot police blocked an access road with trucks and iron railings to maintain order and separate a smaller group of anti-Sereno demonstrators. "We need to be vigilant in this time of darkness".

In March, the Philippine House of Representatives voted in favor of Sereno's impeachment, a drive promoted by a lawyer linked to Duterte, though the president denied any involvement in the impeachment process.

SC Spokesman Theodore Te clarified that Sereno "cannot be an associate justice as her seat was vacated and filled by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen".

"To correct this wrong, we urge the Senate, as the body mandated in the Constitution in impeachment proceedings, to question the Supreme Court ruling".

Government critics say the sacking of Sereno poses a grave threat to the nation's democracy, and is part of a wider campaign by Duterte to destroy anyone he perceives as a foe, and create "one-man rule" in the Philippines.

Complainants Eligio Mallari and Dante Jimenez of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) filed the first the impeachment complaint against of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno at the House of Representatives. He said impeachment removes qualified impeachable officers while the other ousts unqualified public officials.

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Ousted chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno waves to supporters at a rally outside the Supreme Court building, Manila, Philippines on May 11, 2018.

One opposition party said the ousting of Sereno removed a shield against abuse of power in government and left behind a "puppet Supreme Court".

On the SALNs issue, 9 justices said Sereno violated the Constitution with her incomplete submissions: Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, associate justices Teresita Leonardo de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza, Noel Tijam, Samuel Martires, Andres Reyes Jr, and Alexander Gesmundo.

"The people must be given time to review this decision". She says she was ready to defend herself if the impeachment case reached the Senate for trial.

Once an independent judicial leader like Sereno, who acts as checks and balances to the executive branch of government, is ousted, "there will be no more balance of power". In 2016, after Duterte accused some public figures and judges of being involved in the drug trade, Sereno angered the president by instructing judges not to turn themselves in to authorities before being presented with a warrant. But there are still some lawmakers calling for the impeachment to proceed independently from the Supreme Court.

Worldwide rights groups and local critics have accused Duterte of drifting toward authoritarianism after declaring martial law in the south amid a major attack by pro-Daesh militants a year ago.

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