Ousted Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno hugs students who lined up to express their support following her ouster Friday, May 11, 2018 in Manila, Philippines. The Philippine Supreme Court ousted its chief justice, a critic of the country's authoritarian president, in an unprecedented vote Friday by fellow magistrates that she and hundreds of protesters called unconstitutional and a threat to democracy.
AP Photo/Bullit Marquez
Human Rights Watch condemns 'nefarious' Sereno ouster
Ian Nicolas Cigaral (Philstar.com) - May 12, 2018 - 10:20am

MANILA, Philippines — New York-based Human Rights Watch on Saturday slammed the “unprecedented and nefarious” removal of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, whom President Rodrigo Duterte calls his “enemy” that must leave the Supreme Court.

Voting 8-6 in a special en banc session, the SC on Friday ruled that Sereno, the country’s first woman chief justice, was “guilty of unlawfully holding” the top magistrate position—a move that some political watchers say undermines the independence of the judiciary.

The high tribunal only took two months to decide on Solicitor General Jose Calida's “quo warranto” petition, which challenged the legality of Sereno's appointment mainly on the grounds of missing wealth declarations.

In a statement, HRW said Sereno is just the latest in a growing list of institutions and individuals who have been vilified by Duterte for seeking accountability for alleged human rights violations. 

“Sereno’s ouster also kicks open the door for wanton removals of members of other constitutional bodies, such as the Commission on Human Rights,” HRW said.

“Ultimately, the rejection of constitutional checks and balances concentrates power in the hands of Duterte and his allies, posing the greatest danger to democracy in the Philippines since the Marcos dictatorship,” it added.

Last month, Duterte vowed to do everything to remove Sereno from the SC, after the country’s top judge asked the firebrand leader to explain his repeated denial that he had no hand in any ouster moves against her even as the government’s chief legal counsel initiated the quo warranto petition.

Some say Friday's ruling paves the way for a constitutional crisis, wherein the high court has assumed a function the fundamental law grants solely to Congress—to oust the chief justice through impeachment proceedings. The ongoing proceeding at the lower house that comes before a Senate-led trial is now invalidated.

Sereno is the first top magistrate to be ousted by her fellow justices and the second chief justice to lose the seat in the high court after her predecessor, the late Renato Corona, was impeached for failure to disclose to the public his wealth.

The camp of Sereno already said that they will appeal the ruling.

READ: Point by point: Why Supreme Court granted ouster petition vs Sereno

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