Philippine Supreme Court justices oust chief justice

V. Roxas

Karapatan-Central Visayas calls for judicial independence as Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has officially ousted from office today.

Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a quo warranto petition against Sereno before the Supreme Court.

"Wala na'y kaugmaon ang atong hudakatura (There is no future for our judiciary)", said Dr. Phoebe Zoe Maria Sanchez, a representative from Karapatan.

"Respondent [Sereno] is found disqualified from and is hereby adjudged guilty of unlawfully holding and exercising the Office of the Chief Justice".

It is also an action initiated against an association acting as a corporation absent of any lawful authority.

"The decision is immediately executory without need of further action".

Asked again if she would push to stay in the Court, Sereno said: "I don't have any idea yet at this point". Anti-Sereno protesters also gathered outside the building.

For the first time since its creation in 1901, the Supreme Court yesterday issued an unprecedented decision that unseated its Chief Justice on a disqualification and ouster petition filed by government lawyers.

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She has warned that the efforts by the Duterte administration to oust her are a threat to democracy, saying the petition that led to Friday's vote violates the constitution, which stipulates that top officials like her can only be removed by impeachment.

"Respondent Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno is ordered to show cause within ten days from receipt hereof why she should not be sanctioned for violating the Code of Professional Responsibility and the Code of Judicial Conduct for transgressing the sub judice rule and for casting aspersions and ill motives to the members of the Supreme Court", the SC added.

"They took away the right of the Senate and destroyed the Judiciary", she told her supporters in reference to the majority of the justices who voted to oust her.

Duterte and Sereno first clashed in 2016 when she criticised his order urging judges whom he linked to the illegal drug trade to turn themselves in as part of his crackdown. "The Supreme Court, which is supposed to be the cradle of our fragile Constitution, is the same body that killed it", Trillanes said in a statement.

Opposition leader Senator Francis Pangilinan says Congress should insist on its exclusive constitutional role to remove key officials like Sereno through impeachment.

The national lawyers group, Integrated Bar of the Philippines, said it will closely scrutinise the decision because it believes only the Senate has the power to dismiss a Supreme Court justice in this case. It was not known, however, if they said the proper remedy is impeachment.

"The Supreme Court is the highest interpreter of the Constitution and the laws". But there are still some lawmakers calling for the impeachment to proceed independently from the Supreme Court. Renato Corona was impeached in 2011 for betraying the public trust and committing culpable violation of the Constitution. Six of Sereno's fellow justices testified against her in the hearings that started in September, exposing rifts in the high court.

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