Philippines: Supreme Court decision removing its Chief Justice contributes to deterioration of the rule of law
As Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno filed a motion today to reconsider the Supreme Court’s 11 May 2018 decision to remove her from the Court, the ICJ expressed its grave concern that the proceedings in the case had contributed to an overall deterioration in the rule of law in the country.
Sereno’s removal comes on the heels of a series of public statements by President Rodrigo Duterte attacking the Chief Justice, including direct threats to seek her removal from the Court.
The ICJ and other national and international observers have repeatedly and publicly condemned these attacks.
Her removal, through the contrivance of a judicial ruling by a sharply divided Court, adds to the perception that the government institutions are unable or unwilling to safeguard the rule of law, and will attack the institutions that protect it.
“Preserving the independence of the judiciary in the Philippines is crucial at a time when the government is credibly alleged to have been engaged in widespread and systematic human rights violations, amounting to crimes under international law,” said Frederick Rawski, Asia Pacific Director for the ICJ.
“Given the perception of political interference and the potential impact of this case on the credibility of the judiciary as a whole, it is imperative that the Court swiftly and fairly consider the Chief Justice’s motion for reconsideration,” he added.
The removal decision came in response to a quo warranto petition filed by the Solicitor General, the government’s foremost counsel.
The petition sought to nullify her appointment on the grounds that she had failed to comply with disclosure requirements, despite the fact that her qualifications had already been certified as sufficient by the Judicial and Bar Council when her name was included in the short-list submitted to the president for consideration.
The decision superseded ongoing impeachment proceedings in the Congress.
The ICJ raised concerns that the decision could open the floodgates to similar attacks, not only against members of the Court, but to members of the judiciary and other bodies, such as the Philippine Commission on Human Rights.
It called on the Supreme Court to take care to ensure that any proceedings are conducted in line with the highest standards of judicial ethics, as reflected in the international standards such as the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct.
The ICJ also reminded the government of the Philippines that under international standards – including the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary – the judiciary, including individual judges, must be able to conduct itself without “improper influences, inducements, pressures, threats or interferences, direct or indirect… for any reason.”
It is a responsibility of both the judiciary and the political branches of government to ensure that this principle is respected.
Emerlynne Gil, Senior International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia, t: +662 619 8477 (ext. 206) ; e: email@example.com