Sereno to Duterte: No warrant, no surrender
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - August 9, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno does not want judges linked by President Duterte to the illegal drug trade to surrender, unless arrest warrants are issued against them.

In a four-page letter to the President, Sereno described as premature Duterte’s public announcement of the names of officials and judges supposedly linked to illegal drugs.

Duterte has urged the seven to surrender and report to the Supreme Court (SC).

“I would caution them against surrendering or making themselves physically accountable to any police officer in the absence of any duly issued warrant of arrest,” Sereno said, as she invoked jurisdiction of the SC over cases filed against judges.

“As the sole entity charged with the discipline of judges, the Supreme Court decides when judges are excused from bench duty and report to it,” she added.

Meanwhile, Malacañang contradicted Sereno’s claim that Duterte’s expose’ was premature.

Chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo said the announcement could be advantageous to the judges concerned, as it would give them an opportunity to clear their names through the media, than when cases are formally filed against them in court.

Sereno warned the President of the repercussions of the “premature” announcement, especially on the safety and performance of duties of the judges.      

“It would matter greatly to our sense of constitutional order, if we were given the chance to administer the appropriate preventive measures without the complications of a premature public announcement,” she said.

The Chief Justice said it is important for the high court to know the source and basis of any allegation linking judges to the illegal drug trade, noting the SC has administrative supervision over all lower courts.

She pointed out that while the high tribunal supports Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign, it has been careful in handling investigation of administrative cases filed against judges, so as not to tarnish their reputation.

“A judge’s reputation is his or her primary badge of credibility and legacy.”

The SC chief also expressed concern for the safety of the judges named by Duterte.

“Too many of our judges have been assassinated – 26 since 1999, a large proportion of them reportedly at the behest of crime lords, specifically drug lords. Our judges may have been rendered vulnerable and veritable targets for any of those persons and groups who may consider them as acceptable collateral damage in the war on drugs,” she said.

Sereno appealed to Duterte to reconsider his order to disarm the seven judges, until investigation shows that criminal charges should be filed against them.

She assured the President that the judiciary is mindful of the need to cleanse its ranks of members involved in illegal drugs.

“We are currently investigating a judge who may be involved. He is not on the list,” she said.

The Chief Justice is the highest official so far to speak out against Duterte’s public announcement of personalities supposedly involved in the illegal drug trade.

She confirmed that three of seven judges in Duterte’s list are no longer with the judiciary.

She said Judge Roberto Navidad of Calbayog City Regional Trial Court in Samar was killed on Jan. 14, 2008 and Judge Lorenda Mupas of Dasmariñas Municipal Trial Court (MTC) in Cavite was dismissed in 2007 for gross ignorance of the law.

Judge Rene Gonzales of Iloilo City MTCt retired last June and had not handled any drug case.

Three other judges in the list – Exequil Dagala of Dapa-Socorro MTC in Surigao, Adriano Savillo of Iloilo City RTC and Domingo Casiple of Kalibo RTC in Aklan – are not handling drug cases.

Judge Antonio Reyes of Benguet RTC handles drug cases in Baguio City.

Reyes refused to comment on the issue, although he vowed to speak at the proper time as he was still “trying to process the situation.”

CHR warns admin

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has warned the Duterte administration against violating people’s rights to be presumed innocent in the wake of its name-and-shame campaign in fighting the drug problem.

“Naming and shaming cannot be substitute to probable cause under our due process system,” CHR chief Chito Gascon told journalists yesterday.

The CHR chief dared the government to file charges in court, if they have sufficient evidence against the suspects.

“Otherwise the name-and-shame campaign may undermine the presumption of innocence guaranteed by our Constitution,” he said.

Gascon expressed alarm over reports that listing of drug suspects is also being done in barangays.

“Unlike the list provided to the President, which we assumed underwent investigation, the people in the barangay lists have no opportunity to question their inclusion,” he said.

CHR lawyers are planning to file a writ of amparo to stop the listing of drug suspects in barangays.

Review justice system

Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat urged the government to review the country’s criminal justice system and the implementation of its laws in the wake of the administration’s intensified war on drugs.

“While we criticize the drug campaign, it’s difficult to find solutions,” Baguilat said, as he blamed the country’s weak criminal justice system and implementation of the laws for the proliferation of drugs.

Baguilat has filed House Bill 61 seeking to investigate the alleged extrajudicial killings of drug suspects.

While Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said that a congressional probe is not needed since there is no law covering extrajudicial killings, Baguilat said he would continue to speak against the killings of drug suspects.

“Otherwise people may think that extrajudicial killing is justice in itself,” he said. – With Alexis Romero, Helen Flores, Artemio Dumlao, Ghio Ong

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