The Philippine Supreme Court on Tuesday “denied with finality” an appeal by the ousted chief magistrate to reconsider its decision to expel her from office last month, effectively removing President Rodrigo Duterte’s highest-ranking critic.
The court said it has also begun a three-month search for a candidate to replace Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, whom Duterte had branded as his “enemy.”
Duterte’s allies in Congress did not follow through on a threat to impeach the 57-year-old Sereno, the first woman to hold the top post of the judiciary.
Instead, her peers on the bench voted her out in May over questions about her integrity. The justices ruled on a petition filed by the country’s solicitor-general, who had sought her disqualification on charges that she had failed to publicly disclose her true net worth.
On Tuesday, the justices voted 8-6 to uphold their May 11 decision and issued a brief statement, saying they had “denied with finality respondent’s motion for reconsideration.”
A strong voice
While the decision was largely expected, Sereno vowed to be “a strong voice in defending” the country’s democratic institutions and to push for accountability from Duterte, whose government’s war on drugs has left thousands dead since he became president two years ago.
Speaking during a gathering at the country’s premier state-run university, Sereno branded her removal as an “unjust decision.”
“But I do not have to be chief justice to defend our laws and institutions. I live the law, so do all Filipinos who uphold the dignity of every fellow Filipino,” Sereno told her supporters.
“When we take up the cause of a voiceless Filipino, we live the law. Every time we show justice and compassion to a fellow human being, we live the law. Each day we resist the abuses of power and call out evil in government, we live the law,” she said.
“And we will continue to live the law and fight for our democracy and the institutions that safeguard it,” she said.
Sereno had clashed with Duterte’s policies, openly questioning his supposed drug list that he claimed contained names of 150 individuals, including some judges.
She had told judges to ask policemen to properly show arrest warrants before giving up, and wrote Duterte cautioning him about the legality of his procedural short-cuts.
At least three mayors on the list were earlier killed by police in alleged shootouts, although the veracity of the list was put into question after one of the judges named was later found out to be long deceased.
Duterte had also been angered by Sereno’s opposition when he placed the entire south under martial law to defeat pro-Islamic State militants and he moved to transfer the remains of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos to Manila’s heroes’ cemetery.
On Tuesday, Sereno said that the rule of law had been weakened two years into Duterte’s six-year term.
“But truth has a way of coming out eventually. And he (Duterte) is making a mistake if he thinks the Filipino is so easily fooled,” Sereno said.
“This president has attacked and his supporters have attacked many who dared question his actions,” she added.
Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, on Tuesday urged Filipinos to simply respect the decision of the high court.
“Sereno’s term as Chief Justice is over,” Roque said. “We wish her good luck in her everyday life as a private citizen.”
Felipe Villamor in Manila contributed to this report.