THE Philippine Supreme Court on Friday, May 11 voted to oust its first female chief justice who has been critical of the country’s President Rodrigo Duterte and his controversial war on drugs.
Resulting from an 8-6 vote, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was removed from the country’s highest court on the grounds that she allegedly failed to fully disclose her wealth from years before her appointment in 2012 under former President Benigno S. Aquino III.
Supporters of Sereno — including the hundreds who protested outside the court on Friday — saw the attempts leading to her expulsion as being politically motivated.
“Sereno is found disqualified from and is hereby adjudged guilty of unlawfully holding and exercising the office of the chief justice,” said the spokesperson, Theodore Te.
He added, “Accordingly… Sereno is ousted and excluded therefrom. The decision is immediately executory without need of further action.”
Te added that Sereno had 10 days to give an explanation as to why she should not be sanctioned for the alleged violations.
The ruling came ahead of an expected impeachment vote under a Duterte-leaning House of Representatives.
Sereno has vehemently denied the allegation, arguing that she had gone through the proper screening process before taking her position.
Of the ruling, Sereno — a former law professor at the University of the Philippines — argued it to be unconstitutional, citing a 1987 code that says officials of her rank can only be expelled via impeachment.
Sereno’s lawyer and spokesman Jojo Lacanilao said she will appeal.
Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, though said the ruling on Friday was final.
“The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the law,” said Roque. “The high court has spoken.”
Stepping out from the Supreme Court after the ruling, Sereno urged the hundreds of protesters to continue defending “the constitution and fight wrongdoing.”
“Let’s continue to spread the message of democracy and reason,” said Sereno.
In her first press conference following the vote, the Associated Press quoted her saying, “Staying quiet is tantamount to being an accomplice to their abuses.”
“I am a victim today, but I am just one of so many thousands upon thousands whose lives have been snuffed out, who continue to remain in detention who have been unfairly victimized by the very powerful forces in our society that must be exposed for what they are,” said Sereno.
When asked by Rappler if she would try to stay in court, she said, “I don’t have any idea yet at this point. Right now, I really concentrated my efforts on fighting two fronts: the quo warranto petition and the impeachment but now that we are entering a new phase, let’s see.”
Sereno went on leave in March amidst the impeachment complaint which was filed by a lawyer linked to Duterte, but returned to her position on Wednesday.
An outspoken critic of Duterte, Sereno has publicly questioned the president’s controversial war on drugs which human rights groups say has left around 12,000 people dead.
She was also among the most critical against Duterte’s declaration of martial law in the southern Philippine city of Marawi where ISIS-backed militants had taken control, and against the hero’s burial Duterte had authorized for former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Last month, Duterte — who has personally called Sereno out for alleged corruption but denied being involved in her impeachment process — told Sereno that they were enemies as he urged for her removal from the court.
“I am putting you on notice that I am now your enemy, and you have to be out of the Supreme Court,” the president told the chief justice.
“I will not hesitate to do what is in the best interest of my country. If it calls for your forced removal, I will do it.”
Sereno is the first chief justice to be expelled from the court through a vote of fellow justices. Renato Corona, a chief justice in 2012, was impeached in 2012 on similar charges.