Duterte tells UN rights expert: Go to hell

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
Duterte tells UN rights expert: Go to hell
Duterte said he does not recognize the title of UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyer Diego García-Sayán, who previously claimed that the SC decision that ousted Sereno sent a chilling effect to the judiciary.
Agência Brasil / Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte yesterday lashed out at the UN special rapporteur who criticized the Supreme Court (SC) ruling that ousted chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, saying he can “go to hell” for allegedly meddling in Philippine affairs.

Duterte said he does not recognize the title of UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyer Diego García-Sayán, who previously claimed that the SC decision that ousted Sereno sent a chilling effect to the judiciary.

“(García-Sayán) is not a special person and I do not recognize his rapporteur title. Tell him not to interfere with the affairs of my country. He can go to hell. Tell him,” the President told reporters at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2 before he departed for South Korea on a three-day official visit.

“B****t. He is meddling. That’s an internal problem of the country. You should not meddle with it,” he added.

Sereno, who was named chief justice by former president Benigno Aquino III in 2012, has been critical of Duterte’s brutal war on illegal drugs.

Last month, the SC voided Sereno’s appointment as chief justice because of her alleged failure to submit some of her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs).

Voting 8-6, the SC said Sereno was ineligible to become chief justice because of “lack of integrity.”

The ruling stemmed from a quo warranto petition by Solicitor General Jose Calida, who claimed that Sereno had failed to meet the law’s requirements on the submission of SALN. Sereno’s camp, however, maintains that the chief justice can only be ousted through impeachment.

While the solicitor general is the top lawyer of the government, Duterte claimed that he had nothing to do with the quo warranto petition against Sereno. When Sereno challenged Duterte’s claim, the President became furious, declared himself as an “enemy” of Sereno and vowed to support efforts to oust her.

Last week, García-Sayán expressed alarm over the President’s statements, saying the independence of the Philippine judiciary is under attack.

The UN special rapporteur, who made an academic visit to the Philippines, noted that the ouster of Sereno came two days after Duterte expressed support for moves to unseat her. He also raised concerns over what he described as the “worrisome deterioration” of the rule of law in the country.

“Wala akong pakialam diyan. Sabihin mo ‘yang p***** i**** rapporteur na ‘yan, pumunta siya sa impiyerno (I don’t care about that. Tell that son of a b**** rapporteur to go to hell),” the President said.

Duterte admitted that he was angry with Sereno for accusing him of orchestrating efforts to remove her from office. He, however, insisted that he had nothing to do with the quo warranto petition filed by Calida.

Quo warranto related to Marcos burial?

The President said Calida filed the quo warranto petition as an Ilocano who was “hurt” by the opposition to the burial of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani .

For his part, Calida defended the Duterte administration’s decision to give Marcos a hero’s burial in 2016.

“Calida is doing it because he’s an Ilocano. He’s hurt because of the denial of the burial ni Marcos. (Sereno) thought I was interfering,” Duterte said.

“You know, Calida, he was doing it as an Ilocano. He is a lawyer. Pati ‘yan siya ang nagdala ng… sabi na ipalibing. (He was the one who pushed for the burial). Following the law, you’re a soldier and a president... and they were criticizing me left and right. I said that’s the law. What can I do?” he added.

The SC ruling allowing the burial of Marcos at the heroes’ cemetery has sparked outrage among human rights activists who claim that it desecrated the memory of those who resisted martial law under the deposed dictator.

Sereno was one of the five justices who disagreed with the ruling along with Senior Justice Antonio Carpio, Associate Justices Marvic Leonen, Alfredo Caguioa and Francis Jardeleza.

Duterte maintained that he never spoke with any lawmaker about the impeachment of Sereno.

“Ask (the lawmakers) whether I told them to impeach her. If you can find one who can confirm it, I will step down as President. I will resign. I do not intervene,” he said.

Duterte has reacted with similar public outbursts in the past against other UN rapporteurs who raised alarm and sought an independent investigation into his bloody campaign against illegal drugs, which has left thousands of mostly poor drug suspects dead. Police blamed the deaths on clashes with law enforcers.

Sereno’s ouster has generated “a climate of intimidation” in the 15-member SC and other levels of the judiciary, García-Sayán said in an interview with The Associated Press in Manila.

He added that there was no formal UN investigation into Sereno’s removal, but as the UN rapporteur who looks into threats to independence of judges and lawyers worldwide, he had to speak up when problems are reported anywhere in the world. He cited his upcoming report on such a threat to the judiciary in Poland.

“For a rapporteur of the UN on independence of justice to keep silent when a chief justice in any country in the world, even in my country, would be dismissed in such way is impossible, and it will be immoral to stay silent,” García-Sayán, a former justice and foreign minister of Peru, said.

He said he sent questions to the Philippine government about the circumstances leading to the May 11 ouster of Sereno and expressed hopes that the Duterte administration would reply within 60 days and agree to a dialogue on issues that could threaten the judiciary’s independence.

Sereno has appealed the ruling, citing a constitutional principle that top judiciary officials can only be removed by congressional impeachment. A majority of the 23-member Senate, including some Duterte allies, has asked the SC to review its decision, calling it a “dangerous precedent” that infringed on Congress’ power to impeach senior officials.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said García-Sayán was misinformed and added that while Duterte has been critical of Sereno for claiming that he plotted against her, the President had no hand in her expulsion. His dislike of Sereno “is not an attack to the judiciary or an affront to judicial independence,” Roque said. – With AP

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