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Ex-Chief Justice Expresses Profound Concern Over Politicization of Judiciary

Karl Romano
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Philippine Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno speaks about judicial reforms at the University of Baguio, March 2, 2018.
Philippine Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno speaks about judicial reforms at the University of Baguio, March 2, 2018.
Karl Romano/BenarNews

A former Philippine Supreme Court leader expressed alarm Monday about calls for Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to resign over corruption allegations made by a lawyer allied with President Rodrigo Duterte’s camp, saying it showed politicization of the judiciary.

Retired Chief Justice Hilario Davide said Sereno is committed to defending herself in an impeachment process. As a former leader of the judiciary, Davide said he was alarmed by recent developments as some persist in calling for Sereno to be removed.

“I wish to express my deep and profound concern over the apparent politicization of the judiciary,” Davide said in a statement. “I refer particularly to recent calls from certain judges and court employees for the chief justice to resign immediately and not await for the results of the impeachment process.”

Spearheaded by the presidential palace, the calls for Sereno to quit disregard requirements of due process and fairness, the retired chief justice said. Davide is the highest former judiciary member to speak out in defense of Sereno, the first woman to head the Supreme Court.

Since being appointed in 2012, she had clashed with Duterte over certain policy issues, including his brutal campaign against drugs that left thousands dead since he assumed office in 2016.

Last week, the House justice committee voted overwhelmingly to find probable cause to impeach Sereno over allegations of culpable violation of the constitution, betrayal of public trust, corruption and other high crimes. She is accused of living a lavish lifestyle and of not declaring her real net worth in alleged violation of court rules.

The allegations were made by a lawyer with known ties to politicians allied with Duterte who control the 298-member House. But while they found probable cause, committee members stopped short of sending the complaint to the full House to a vote to take the impeachment case to the Senate for trial.

Sereno has called on the House to vote and impeach her immediately so she can defend herself properly at the Senate.

Davide said calling on Sereno to quit now would destroy people’s faith in the judiciary.

“The call is condemning, judging before hearing, applying additional pressure on the chief magistrate rather than according her the rights to a fair trial, to substantive and procedural due process and even to the rule of law,” he said. “It is resort to the rule of men.”

The impeachment case has exposed cracks within the judiciary, with 13 of Sereno’s 14 fellow justices voting to ask her to go on leave. If a third of the House agrees with the impeachment findings, Sereno would be considered impeached and a trial in the Senate would begin.

Sereno would become only the second chief justice to be impeached, after Renato Corona in 2012 over similar charges of corruption.

Duterte had sought to distance himself from the political process, but Sereno’s troubles began after she questioned his drug war that has left more than 4,000 dead, according to government figures. She also voted in the bench’s minority against Duterte’s decision to grant a hero’s burial to dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 2016, nearly 30 years after his death.

Davide presided over the impeachment trial of former president Joseph Estrada in 2001 on corruption allegations. But it ended in a farce when members of the prosecution walked out of the trial and public anger later snowballed into a peaceful protest that eventually forced Estrada out of office.

He was jailed, but eventually pardoned by his successor, Gloria Arroyo. The former movie action star turned politician later was elected mayor of Manila in 2013, after placing second in his losing presidential comeback bid in 2010.

Felipe Villamor in Manila contributed to this report.

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