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Duterte tells Sereno: Don’t create a crisis

President Duterte warned that if Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno precipitated a constitutional crisis, he would defy her, and would order all members of the executive branch to do the same.

Do you prefer martial law?

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The drug war cannot wait for the slow wheels of Philippine justice.

This was President Duterte’s response yesterday to Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s instruction to judges tagged by the government as drug coddlers not to surrender unless a warrant is issued for their arrest.

He warned that if Sereno precipitated a constitutional crisis, he would defy her, and would order all members of the executive branch to do the same.

Asking rhetorically if she would rather have him declare martial law to fight the drug menace, Duterte told Sereno in a nationally televised speech, “There is slaughter every day and you are just interested in the warrant of arrest.”

Addressing soldiers in Cagayan de Oro, the President could not hide his displeasure over Sereno’s pronouncement, saying he could not afford to wait for arrest warrants while people are being slaughtered by drug users.

“You know, Chief Justice, there is a slaughter going on. Mind you, you are appointed by the government there in your office as Chief Justice at a time when the government is doing nothing. Why wait for warrant of arrest? There are 600,000 people addicted to drugs?” Duterte said.

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“Madam Chief Justice, you must be joking. Both of us are lawyers… You know how long it will take for the government to secure a warrant of arrest,” he added.

“I warn you. Don’t create a crisis because I will order everybody in the executive department not to honor you. You want me to be frank?

“Please, don’t push me, hindi ako gago (I’m not stupid). If the illegal drug trade continues, would you rather that I declare martial law,” Duterte said.

The President said it takes about two to three months before an arrest warrant can be secured. He noted that cases take years or even “forever” before they are resolved by the court.

“In the Supreme Court, tell me. What is the fastest decision you made on criminal cases? You’re asking for warrant of arrest for 600,000 Filipinos. In the meantime, what do we do with the addict? We let them stay there to resume their criminal activity?” Duterte said.

“Ma’am huwag tayo magbolahan (let’s not fool each other) and don’t force the issue. I respect your comment but it is… a rigmarole to me,” he added.

Duterte blamed the Aquino administration for its failure to curb the drug menace in the country.

“Six years have passed and nothing happened,” the tough-talking President said.

Former president Benigno Aquino III named Sereno as chief justice in 2012 following the ouster of SC chief magistrate Renato Corona by an impeachment court for failing to declare some of his assets.

Ready to step down

Duterte said he is ready to step down once federalism is established and the problem of drugs is resolved.

“I’m ready to retire if federalism is ready two to three years from now. I’ll give way and I’m good for retirement,” he added.

The President stressed that he did not make an “accusatorial utterance” when he linked more than a hundred officials to narcotics trade.

“It is in consonance to my duty as President of the Philippines to let everybody know the people around them,” he said.

Drug list credible

Duterte defended the list of over 150 government officials, including judges, allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade, saying the list is credible.

He stressed that he never told judges named in his list of 159 officials linked to the drug trade to surrender to the police, but instead to report to the Supreme Court.

“I never accused anybody except to read their names,” Duterte said, assuring Sereno that he has basis for naming the seven judges with alleged links to the drug trade.

Duterte said security officials would not provide him intelligence information without validating them.

“The military and police do not just relay information that would be damaging to a person. There is nothing personal here. You (people in the list) do not have any business with them and they do not owe anything to you,” he said.

Asked by media to explain the extent of participation of the judges in the drug trade, Duterte said, “Intervention.”

At least seven members of the judiciary were tagged by the President in the illegal drug trade. They were Judge Mupas of Dasmariñas, Cavite; Judge Reyes of Baguio City; Judge Sabilo of Iloilo City; Judge Casiple of Kalibo, Aklan, Judge Rene Gonzales, Judge Exekiel Dagala and Judge Roberto Navidad of the Calbayog City regional trial court.

Sereno confirmed that Navidad was killed in 2008.

She warned judges against surrendering or making themselves accountable to any police officer without a warrant of arrest.

Reacting to the inclusion of a dead man in the list of narco-officials, Duterte said the intelligence community was not provided with information about the deaths of people.

“As early as five years ago, the names are already there. Others are already dead,” he said. “Death is a private affair to the family. It is not announced to the world except through the obituary.”

Malacañang maintained that the drug list submitted to the President is credible.

“I would say it is credible. On the other hand, if there are mistakes, the onus now is upon the individual to express and to clarify his situation,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said.

Abella said Duterte was not intervening with judicial process when he named the judges allegedly involved in illegal drugs.

He said the President was merely warning the public about the dangers of illegal drugs.

“The President is taking the position of parens patriae as parent of the nation. He is calling attention to clear and present danger of drugs. It’s his moral obligation to make sure the public is properly warned of the drug menace,” Duterte’s spokesman said.

“This is not a judicial process, it’s simply calling attention. It is in a sense taking the moral responsibility to be able to warn the people,” Ablella added.

Asked if Duterte’s action can cause constitutional crisis, Abella replied, “As I said earlier, his position as parent of the nation transcends this particular legality you are referring to. He is exercising his position as father to the nation and calling attention to what is extraordinary situation facing society.

“In other words it’s something equivalent to shouting fire, there is a fire in the house. It is his moral duty to warn people there is fire in the house,” he added.

When pressed why the government did not just file cases against officials allegedly involved in drugs, Abella said, “Simply because there is already the length and breadth of such magnitude. It needs extraordinary measures.”

Abella said the officials included in the list are not being subjected to trial by publicity.

“The President is not prone to gimmicks. He is not that type of person,” he said. - With Christina Mendez

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