Philippine senators: Supreme Court set ‘dangerous precedent’
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — More than half of the Philippine Senate asked the Supreme Court on Thursday to review its decision to oust its chief justice, calling the ruling a “dangerous precedent” that infringed on Congress’ constitutionally given power to impeach senior officials.
Fourteen of the 23 senators signed the resolution, including eight who are allies of President Rodrigo Duterte. They are led by Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, who has said Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno can only be removed through congressional impeachment.
Duterte has called for the ouster of Sereno, who has criticized his deadly anti-drug crackdown and naming in public of some judges he has linked to illegal drugs. The volatile president, however, said Wednesday that he “never lifted a finger” and was not involved in efforts to boot Sereno out of the country’s highest court.
The Supreme Court’s unprecedented expulsion of Sereno based on a petition, called quo warranto, by government Solicitor-General Jose Calida pre-empted an impeachment process that has been underway in Congress for months. The petition accused Sereno of failing to file her assets disclosures as a state university professor years ago, a charge she denies.
Critics have warned of a constitutional crisis if the legislature, specifically the Senate, insists that it has the sole constitutional power to remove Sereno if she is impeached by the House of Representatives and found guilty in a Senate trial.
In their resolution, the 14 senators said the 8-6 vote by the 15-member Supreme Court Friday “sets a dangerous precedent that transgresses the exclusive powers of the legislative branch to initiate, try and decide all cases of impeachment.”
“The Senate recognizes that the continued harmonious interdependence of these branches lies in the faithful adherence of each branch of government to the constitution,” they said.
There was no immediate reaction from the Supreme Court.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque has called for the court ruling to be respected. He said the Senate was not being deprived of its power because no articles of impeachment have been presented to it.
The House had been set to vote on impeachment charges accusing Sereno of corruption, breach of public trust and other crimes and then send them to the Senate. The Senate was preparing to turn itself into an impeachment court to try Sereno, who had gone on a two-month leave from the court to prepare for her defense.
In one of her strongest criticisms of Duterte so far, Sereno called on Duterte Thursday to honor a pledge to resign if it can be proven that he had a hand in her removal from the court. She said Duterte himself called her an “enemy” and vowed to have her removed by Congress in a recent public outburst.
Wearing a black dress, Sereno blasted Duterte’s brash and expletives-laden public remarks, including his ordering troops to shoot female rebels in the genitals, his deadly anti-drug campaign and his intimidation of critics and perceived enemies like her, which she said resembled the dictatorial ways of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.
“There is fear in the street because life may be snuffed out by the gun, there is fear for your character because you don’t want your reputation destroyed and you don’t want to be cursed on national television and afterwards also get mobbed by trolls,” Sereno said.
She asked Filipinos to stand up for justice and accountability. “The only way to fight a bully is to resist,” she said, adding that she would be a part of the struggle.
“I will use my voice to widen the discourse on justice and accountability,” she said. “If he doesn’t want dissent, give him dissent. If he doesn’t want to hear the voices of people, give him the voice of the people and let him hear it.”