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Besieged chief justice says Philippines facing threats to rights

by: Agence France-Presse

The Philippines’ Supreme Court chief justice warned on Wednesday that the country’s civil rights were under grave threat as she faces all-but-certain impeachment by allies of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Maria Lourdes Sereno spoke out as the Philippine House of Representatives prepared to vote Thursday on whether to proceed with her impeachment following a threat by Duterte that she would be forced out.

Sereno has clashed with the president on issues like the independence of the judiciary as well as rights issues linked to Duterte’s centrepiece “war on drugs” which has left thousands dead at the hands of police or shadowy vigilantes.

Duterte in turn vowed last year to impeach Sereno, accusing her of excessive spending and other abuses of power — a move slammed by critics as the latest in a series of measures by the president to muzzle his critics.

“The current state of the nation is one where perceived enemies of the dominant order are considered fair game for harassment, intimidation and persecution,” she said in a speech at a prominent women’s school.

She said “short cuts are preferred over adherence to constitutional guarantees of human rights”, due process was being dispensed with and fake news used to manipulate the public.

“Every erosion of the bill of rights hits the poor and unknowing the hardest,” she added, urging the public to openly denounce perceived abuses.

“Be not silent, nor afraid, nor compromising in attitude,” she said.

The vote at the House committee on justice is the start of a process that could see Sereno removed from office by way of a trial in the Senate.

Since taking office in mid-2016, Duterte and his allies have jailed an opposition senator, publicly castigated media agencies that criticised him, and attempted to sideline human rights and anti-graft agencies.

The president enjoys widespread support and his allies control both houses of Congress.

Although she did not mention the fiery president by name, Sereno assailed the attempt to re-write the constitution, a key project of Duterte and his allies.

“Checks and balances that are designed to work, indeed work,” she said, citing constitutional guarantees for transparency and accountability.

Sereno has said the charges against her were fabricated.

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