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Philippine church groups back beleaguered chief justice

Church leaders warn that ousting Chief Justice Ma Lourdes Sereno will destroy the pillars of democracy

Mark Saludes, Manila

Mark Saludes, Manila

Updated: March 07, 2018 09:45 AM GMT
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Philippine church groups back beleaguered chief justice

Catholic and Protestant church groups hold a march to show support for Philippine Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno who is facing impeachment proceedings in Congress. (Photo by Angie de Silva)

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Catholic and Protestant church groups have showed support for the Philippines' beleaguered chief justice who is facing impeachment proceedings over alleged corruption charges.

Hundreds of activists and church workers held a protest march in the suburb of Quezon City on March 6 to dramatize their call for a fair hearing for Chief Justice Ma Lourdes Sereno.

Benedictine Sister Mary John Mananzan said the charges being leveled against Sereno are part of President Rodrigo Duterte's efforts to eliminate opposition to his administration.

"It is very clear that what they want is to take away the opposition," said Sister Mananzan, one of the convenors of the group Movement Against Tyranny.

In a statement, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) said the move in Congress to oust the chief justice will only create "animosity more than national unity."

The Protestant group said the separation of powers and independence of the executive and legislative departments and the judiciary should be observed.

"It is not so much our hope that they operate discordantly but rather the three exercise the role of check and balance ... that strengthens and renders public service to the utmost," read the statement.

The ecumenical group Promotion of Church People's Response warned what it described as moves by the Duterte administration to destroy the three "pillars of democracy."

Norma Dollaga, the group's spokeswoman, said the president is using his allies in Congress to remove the chief justice and "manipulate the judicial system."

"This is a dangerous signal," she said. "While Duterte has not provided significant change for the suffering Filipinos, he mocks the very essence of democracy," said Dollaga.

In the face of street protests, members of the lower house of Congress set aside the plenary voting on the impeachment proceedings against Sereno until after the Holy Week.

"We still have to prepare and study the articles of impeachment," said House Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Farinas, chairman of the powerful House Committee on Rules.

On March 6, Duterte denied that he was behind efforts to unseat the chief justice.

"You can ask anybody, I never initiated anything against Sereno," said the president in a speech during the oath-taking ceremony of officials of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission.

The president said he just called Sereno's attention "because of the so many cases pending while she keeps on dilly-dallying."

Duterte said Congress would be the sole judge on Sereno's fate, saying that the legislative branch and the judiciary are co-equal branches of government.

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