Sereno ouster a serious threat to PH judicial system

Jun. 03, 2018

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — The removal of former Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno from his office through a quo warranto filed by the Office of the Solicitor General poses a serious threat to the judicial independence in the country.

This was raised by Diego García-Sayán, a Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers of the United Nations in a statement released on Friday, June 1.

García-Sayán also expressed grave concern over the public threats by President Rodrigo Duterte against Sereno.

Sereno’s dismissal, he pointed out, followed after those threats by the President were uttered publicly “sending a chilling message to other supreme court judges and members of the judiciary posing a serious threat to judicial independence.”

The former Chief Justice was removed from his position on May 11 when her colleagues in the SC, in an en banc decision voted 8-6 in favor of the quo warranto petition.

On Wednesday, May 30, Sereno filed her 205-page to the SC urging the justices to reverse their ruling.

The magistrates who voted for her ouster include Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza, Samuel Martires, Andres Reyes, Jr., Alexander Gesmundo, and Noel Tijam.

It was Associate Justice Tijam who wrote the 153-page landmark decision.

In his statement, García-Sayán underscored the relationship between the threat of Duterte and the dismissal of Sereno from the SC.

“The decision of the Supreme Court was issued two days after the President of the Philippines publicly threatened the Chief Justice by saying that she was his enemy and that she should be removed from her job or resign,” he pointed out.

García-Sayán also echoed Duterte’s denial to his participation in the filing of the quo warranto petition.

“The derogatory statements and threats by President Duterte, which have been televised, broadcast on radio, and carried by newspapers, constitute a vicious attack on the independence of the judiciary,” he added.

The public threat, he stressed, did not only constitute direct intimidation to Sereno but also caused a chilling effect on the other members of the SC “who may have been deterred from asserting their judicial independence and exercising their freedom of expression.”

The international human rights standards on the independence of the judiciary provide that it is the duty of all governmental and other institutions to respect and observe the independence of the judiciary, García-Sayán added.

“Ms. Sereno’s only fault was to write a polite letter to the President expressing her concern on the premature announcement of an informal investigation against seven judges accused in August 2016 of involvement in illegal drug activities,” he said.

The UN Special Rapporteur also brought to mind how Duterte maligned Sereno in public last April 13, 2018, by calling her “ignorant”, “dumb”, and “coward.”

“The use of such derogatory language against the highest-ranking magistrate in the country sends a clear message to all judges of the Philippines: in the so-called ‘war on drugs’, you’re either with me or against me,” the UN expert said.

“The right to a fair trial presupposes the existence of an independent and impartial tribunal,”García-Sayán said adding that it is high time for the country to adopt concrete measures to restore judicial independence.

The Special Rapporteur reported that he already relayed his concerns to the government and will continue to follow the evolutions of the events related to Serreno’s removal from office. (

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