Philippines: President Duterte’s attack on the Chief Justice is an attack on the rule of law

The ICJ today condemned a threatening statement made by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte attacking Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno of the Philippines Supreme Court.

The ICJ said that the President’s remarks constituted an assault not just on the Chief Justice, but on the independence of the judiciary in the country.

The ICJ urged President Duterte to respect judicial independence and not to exert political pressure on any government official or agency to undermine the independence of the judiciary.

In a press conference on 9 April 2018, President Duterte told reporters: “I’m putting you on notice that I’m your enemy and you have to be out of the Supreme Court.”

He also called on the House of Representatives to expedite impeachment proceedings presently underway against Chief Justice Sereno.

“It is absolutely unacceptable for President Duterte to make such a statement not only because it constitutes direct intimidation of the Chief Justice, but the chilling effect it may have on other independent judges who carry out their professional duties,” said Emerlynne Gil, Senior International Legal Adviser of ICJ.

“By expressing his personal feelings against the Chief Justice and by directing the House of Representatives to accelerate the impeachment proceedings, the President is actively influencing and interfering with the functions of other co-equal branches of government,” Gil added.

The ICJ reminds President Duterte that as enunciated in the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, “[i]t is the duty of all governmental and other institutions to respect and observe the independence of the judiciary.”

The Principles affirm that the judiciary must be able to carry out its work “without any restrictions, improper influences, inducements, pressures, threats or interferences, direct or indirect, from any quarter or for any reason.”

The ICJ strongly urges President Duterte to retract his comments and to refrain in the future from making any statements attacking individual judges or in any way interfering with the independence of the judiciary.


  Emerlynne Gil, Senior International Legal Adviser, t: +662 619 8477 (ext. 206) ; e:


 In September 2017, two impeachment complaints against the Chief Justice were filed before the Committee of Justice of the House of Representatives, the Lower House of Congress.

The Committee of Justice approved only one of the complaints, which is scheduled to be put before the plenary of the House of Representatives in May 2018 when Congress resumes its session.

If it obtains one-third vote of all members in the House of Representatives, the articles of impeachment will be transmitted to the Senate, which is the Upper House of Congress.

Any impeachable officer may be removed from office by a vote of two-thirds of all the members of the Senate sitting as the impeachment court.

Some of the points raised in the approved impeachment complaint are the Chief Justice’s failure to report certain income in her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN), allegations of use of public funds to finance her extravagant and lavish lifestyle, and manipulation of judicial appointments for personal and political reasons, among others. 

The Chief Justice maintains she correctly filed her SALNs. She also further claims that the other allegations in the impeachment complaint are baseless or mere fabrications.

In March 2018, the Philippines’ Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a petition before the Supreme Court questioning the Chief Justice’s appointment due to her alleged failure to fully disclose her wealth. Oral arguments on this petition were made on 10 April 2018.

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