June 19, 2018, 8:02 pm
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Sereno: Duterte trying to weaken institutions

OUSTED Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said relentless attacks by President Duterte on democratic institutions, including the judiciary, “fit in a pattern of trying to weaken democratic institutions.”

Speaking during an interview on BBC’s news program “HARDTalk” program which was aired yesterday, Sereno told presenter Stephen Sackur that Duterte’s statement that he was used to planting evidence and sowing intrigue during his time as prosecutor in Davao City resonates well with what has been happening to supposedly independent institutions.

“I think in the present context, this President came in very strongly, attacking many institutions. The attack on the judiciary was preceded by or simultaneously carried with attacks on different institutions. You could see that first he laid out the basic premise that during his time as prosecutor, he was used to planting evidence and sowing intrigues,” Sereno said.

Duterte, in a press conference in August 2016, basically admitted he bent the law to get a desired outcome while he prosecutor of Davao for 10 years. He said: ‘I’ve learned a lot during my prosecution days. We planted evidence. We arrested persons but we released them.”

Sereno said aside from the judiciary, other independent bodies such as the Commission on Human Rights and even the Office of the Ombudsman are also victims of Duterte’s relentless attacks.

“You could see this in the Energy Regulatory Commission, in the Commission on Higher Education, in the Commission on Elections and he also attacked the Commission on Human Rights and the Ombudsman. So these relentless attacks basically fit in a pattern of trying to weaken democratic institutions,” she said.

Sereno first earned Duterte’s ire after she wrote him a letter in 2016 cautioning him over his public announcement of the names of seven judges allegedly involved in the illegal drugs trade.

Last April, Duterte said he considers Sereno his “enemy” and vowed to help expedite her removal from the Supreme Court for insisting he was behind moves to oust her. Duterte was irked over Sereno’s call him to explain why Solicitor General Jose Calida was the one who filed the quo warranto petition against her.

Sereno was ousted the following month by a vote of 8-6. She has filed an appeal.

Human Rights Commissioner Chito Gascon was also at the receiving end of Duterte’s harsh words due to his criticisms on government’s bloody war on drugs. Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales was also lambasted by the President on several occasions, especially after she said her office was looking into allegations about Duterte’s supposed undeclared wealth.
 
OPPOSITION FIGURE

Sereno said she would not identify herself as an opposition figure even if anti-administration groups supported her and even after she asked Duterte to resign in a forum organized by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines last month.

Sereno said she will not seek any political office, adding she did not run even for a post in campus politics during her college days.

“I am not someone who plots and plan these things. I have never been really, a someone, who has sought a political office even in campus. So no, it is far from me to be calculating along that line,” Sereno said.

“What I understand is that right now my present role is that there is a voice that must be heard. People are asking me to speak for them and I have said yes. Whether I am retained as chief justice or whether I am removed as chief justice, that mission for justice must continue,” she added.

Sereno was asked by Sackur about her “political statements” against Duterte, her integrity and relations with her former peers in the Supreme Court.

She said, “In the face of very strong pronouncements where the President himself seems to be leading us towards a system where basically he thought that he could disregard the constitutional guarantee of due process to our judges and our citizens, I am forced to remind everyone of the Constitution. Remember, the fight for our democracy is an ongoing one.

It’s not as if we have a very stable system, the democracy in my country must be guarded at all times.”

Sereno further explained that she did not consider her statements as political as she said she was just fighting for the rule of law and the observance of constitutional due process when she wrote him about the judges he publicly named. She said Duterte named the seven judges publicly without according them the opportunity to answer the charges first.

SALN ISSUE

Sackur asked Sereno about her statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN), which was the basis of the quo warranto  petition and the SC’s decision ousting her from her post.

“They’re not all gossip, are they? Is it true or not true, you did not file the mandatory SALN?” Sackur asked, to which Sereno responded, “Not true at all,” adding those are all “gossips and unfounded allegations.”

Sereno also insisted that the only way to remove her was through impeachment with the Senate sitting as the impeachment court.

But Sackur cited the apparent loss of confidence in Sereno by majority of her colleagues in the SC, particularly the eight justices who voted to oust her.

“When push came to shove, never mind the impeachment. In the end, your fellow justices clearly lost confidence in you when the Solicitor General filed the quo warranto against you, eight of your fellow justices in the Supreme Court decided that you were disqualified. You talk about judicial independence, these were fellow justices who lost confidence in you,” Sackur said.

But Sereno reiterated that five of the eight who voted against her should have inhibited considering they have testified against her in the impeachment hearing at the House of Representatives.

“Now, Stephen, if you are going to look at the points I said in the motion for reconsideration, five of those justices among the eight, testified against me. That’s five already. So by right, under the Code of Judicial Conduct, they should be inhibiting themselves from this proceeding,” she said.

Sackur pressed on, saying Sereno’s problem is that her fellow justices simply lost confidence in her integrity.

Sereno said it is not true. She cited scholar Raul Berger who she said stated that “the reason why you require impeachable officials to go through impeachment is that you have to protect the justices even from among themselves in the collegial court.”
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