Philippines chief justice warns of attack on democracy
MANILA (ANN Desk) – Country’s top lawyer braces for impeachment hearing this week
Allies of President Rodrigo Duterte increased the pressure on the Philippines’ Supreme Court chief justice on Tuesday after she warned that efforts to impeach her could threaten the country’s democracy.
Duterte last month vowed to force out Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno for alleged corruption. Sereno is one of the few officials willing to criticise Duterte’s alleged law and institutional violations during his brutal anti-crime campaign.
“This is getting to be larger than myself. This is no longer just about me. It is about democracy,” Sereno told broadcaster ABS-CBN.
House of Representatives Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez vowed on Tuesday to push on with the impeachment hearings this week.
Alvarez brushed off suspicions he is acting in revenge for Sereno’s testimony against him in a 2001. Asked if her testimony against Alvarez – over a charge he profited from a conflict of interest in awarding an airport contract – could be one of the reasons why he was pushing for her impeachment, Sereno said: “This is a matter that my lawyers are still considering.”
Sereno warned the judiciary would be under threat if the Duterte government was allowed to pursue a fabricated case against her, AFP reports.
“Is the judiciary safe? And if the judiciary is not safe, is democracy safe? Are the constitutional rights of people still assured?” she asked.
Another prominent critic of Duterte, Senator Leila De Lima, was arrested last year on charges of drug trafficking and is behind bars awaiting trial.
De Lima insists the charges were trumped up to silence her. Rights groups and European lawmakers call her a political prisoner.
Duterte has also called for the impeachment of government Ombudsman Conchita Morales after her office began investigating allegations that Duterte had secret bank accounts containing millions in embezzled funds.
Elected last year on a promise to wage a bloody war on drugs, Duterte has been accused of tolerating human rights abuses and ignoring the rule of law as he pursues suspected drug users.
Human Rights Watch says more than 12,000 Filipinos have been killed by police and death squads since Duterte took office. Allies of the president control both houses of Congress.