Int’l jurists’ group slams CJ removal
An international organization of judges, lawyers and academics said on Thursday that the ouster of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno had contributed to the “overall deterioration” of the rule of law in the Philippines.
“Her removal, through the contrivance of a judicial ruling by a sharply divided court, adds to the perception that the government institutions are unable or unwilling to safeguard the rule of law, and will attack the institutions that protect it,” the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said in a statement.
ICJ is dedicated to ensuring respect for international human rights standards through the law.
In the statement, Frederick Rawski, ICJ director for the Asia-Pacific region, said Sereno’s removal came on the heels of a series of public statements by President Duterte, one of which was when he called himself her “enemy” and rooted for her removal from the top job in the judiciary.
Quo warranto petition
Sereno was facing impeachment in the House of Representatives for, among other charges, not submitting all of her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth to the Judicial and Bar Council when she applied for the job in 2012.
Despite the proceedings in the House, Mr. Duterte’s top lawyer, Solicitor General Jose Calida, brought a quo warranto petition in the Supreme Court for the invalidation of the Chief Justice’s appointment on the same ground.
Under the Constitution, a constitutional officer like the Chief Justice may be removed from office through impeachment in Congress, but, in a shock decision on May 11, eight of the 14 Supreme Court justices voted to grant Calida’s petition.
Sereno appealed the ruling on Wednesday, arguing for the supremacy of the Constitution and urging the justices “to do what is right and just.”
SC urged to reconsider
The ICJ statement came the next day.
“Preserving the independence of the judiciary in the Philippines is crucial at a time when the government is credibly alleged to have been engaged in widespread and systematic human rights violations, amounting to crimes under international law,” Rawski said.
ICJ urged the Supreme Court to consider Sereno’s appeal.
“Given the perception of political interference and the potential impact of this case on the credibility of the judiciary as a whole, it is imperative that the court swiftly and fairly consider the Chief Justice’s motion for reconsideration,” Rawski said.
Similar attacks on others
ICJ expressed concern that the May 11 ruling could open the floodgates to similar attacks, not only against justices on the Philippines’ top bench but also against other members of the judiciary and other bodies such as the Commission on Human Rights.
The Supreme Court, the group said, should “take care to ensure that any proceedings are conducted in line with the highest standards of judicial ethics, as reflected in the international standards such as the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct.”
ICJ reminded the government that under international standards—including the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary—the judiciary, including individual judges, must be able to conduct itself without “improper influences, inducements, pressures, threats or interferences, direct or indirect … for any reason.”
There was no comment from the Supreme Court on Thursday.
Malacañang said it would wait for the Supreme Court’s final decision.
Asked for comment on Sereno’s appeal, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said: “Well, there’s a process for that so let’s follow due process. And we wish her the best.”
Roque brushed aside Sereno’s claims in recent days that the Duterte administration was behind moves to remove her from office.
“I think for now she should worry whether her own colleagues will uphold their own ruling against her,” Roque said. —WITH REPORTS FROM JEROME ANING AND JULIE M. AURELIO
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