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Philippine chief justice stands up to Duterte

President calls Maria Lourdes Sereno his 'enemy,' threatens to remove her by force

Philippine chief justice stands up to Duterte

Philippine Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno speaks before civil society groups in Manila on April 9. (Photo by Mike Taboy/ucanews.com)

Inday Espina-Varona, Manila
Philippines

April 10, 2018

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The Philippines' chief justice has accused the country's president of orchestrating her ouster from the Supreme Court and preventing her from testifying in an impeachment trial.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said the government is persecuting her for protecting the judiciary from President Rodrigo Duterte's abuse of power in his anti-narcotics campaign.

The president's "total war" against illegal drugs has reportedly resulted in the killing of thousands of suspected drug users and dealers according to human rights groups.

In a speech before civil society groups on April 9, Sereno challenged Duterte to prove that he has nothing to do with the ouster moves against her.

"His spokesperson will say again that he has nothing to do with it. But Filipinos are smart, they understand what is happening," she said.

She refuted her critics' claims of extravagance, which has been used as basis for moves to oust her.

Sereno expressed confidence that she would have the opportunity to defend herself before an impeachment court.

In her strongest speech since Congress started impeachment proceedings against her, Sereno appealed to church leaders to assume "prophetic roles" and fight evil.

"We are not destined for slavery but to freedom. What is evil, we denounce; what is good, we affirm," she said in a speech before a gathering of the Movement Against Tyranny. 

Sereno said she would "not bow to the powers that be," adding that there are people who told her to "just bow temporarily" to stop the moves against her.

"I cannot, I must retain the ability to look at every citizen in the eye and say fight on with courage, hang on to your principles, never yield, never give up," said Sereno.

Reacting to the chief justice's statement, Duterte ordered Congress to speed up the impeachment proceedings.

"I am putting you on notice that I am your enemy and you have to be out of the Supreme Court," said the president in a speech late on April 9.

He said he wants the chief justice out for the good of the country.

"I will not hesitate to do what is in the best interests of my country. If it calls for your forced removal, I will do it," said Duterte.

The Lower House is expected to vote on a committee report recommending Sereno's impeachment when Congress resumes in the middle of May.

If at least one-third of the House votes to accept the committee report, Sereno will be deemed impeached. 

Aside from the impeachment proceedings in Congress, the chief justice is also set to face her fellow justices on April 10 to defend herself and convince the court not to remove her.

The Supreme Court stands to decide on a petition filed by the government's lawyer to remove Sereno from office for alleged involvement in anomalies, including the non-submission of required annual statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.

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