Updated: May 17, 2021 04:01 AM GMT
Activists show support for Philippine Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno during a protest march in Baguio City in this April 10 file photo. Sereno is facing ouster from the Supreme Court and impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives. (Photo by Karl Romano)
Catholic and Protestant bishops in the Philippines have rallied church and civil society leaders to call on the Supreme Court to scrap a petition seeking to nullify the appointment of the country's chief justice.
The prelates said the Supreme Court has abandoned its judicial independence after it accepted a quo warranto petition filed by the government against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
Sereno was facing impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives, but members of the House refused to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate. This forced President Rodrigo Duterte to come with an alternative way of removing Sereno.
A quo warranto is a special legal action to resolve a dispute over whether a person has the right to hold a public office that he or she occupies.
Sereno's supposed failure to submit a statement of assets and liabilities before she was named head of the judiciary in 2012 was cited as the reason for initiating quo warranto proceedings.
Duterte earlier declared himself Sereno's "enemy" and vowed to throw her out of the Supreme Court.
Sereno accused Duterte's administration of trying to orchestrate her ouster from the Supreme Court without having to resort to an impeachment trial.
She said the government is persecuting her for trying to protect the judiciary from Duterte who wanted to pursue a crackdown on alleged drug addicts, dealers, and their protectors without due process.
The chief justice called on Filipinos and leaders of Christian churches to assume "prophetic roles" in society.
The prelates and Duterte critics say an impeachment trial in Congress could embarrass Duterte if the allegations against Sereno are proved baseless.
The bishops, who formed a group called Coalition for Justice, allege that justices of the Supreme Court colluded with the Duterte administration to avert an impeachment trial.
In the Lower House, five Supreme Court justices earlier testified in impeachment proceedings against Sereno.
"The Supreme Court abandoned its chief mandate to ensure an independent judiciary by accepting a bankrupt quo warranto petition and refusing to inhibit five openly biased Justices," said a statement signed by 300 church leaders and representatives of major political groups.
The petitioners said the people "will not accept any decision tainted by gross injustice and justices who cannot act with justice."
"The state derives its power from the people. When the key instruments of the state conspire to subvert the constitution and democracy, the people must rise as the last bastion of our rights and freedoms," the statement added.
Benedictine nun Mary John Mananzan said that by taking the quo warranto route in removing the chief justice, "the Supreme Court has effectively demolished the checks and balances system as well as judicial independence."
Among the coalition petition signatories were Catholic Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, and Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos.
Bishop Deogracias Iniguez of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum, Bishop Noel Pantoja of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, Father Rex Reyes Jr. of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Bishop Daniel Balais of the Intercessors for the Philippines, and Bishop Leo Alconga of the Philippines for Jesus Movement also signed the petition.