Vice President Leni Robredo called for the defense of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, saying that the quo warranto petition filed against her could be used by the administration as a weapon to kill dissent.
“Hindi maaaring mananahimik nalang tayo. Kailangan nating isantabi ang ating takot at ipaglaban ang ating hudikatura,” said Robredo at the Free the Courts Forum held at the University of the Philippines Diliman on Monday.
Last March, Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a quo warranto petition against Sereno, questioning her validity to hold position as Chief Justice.
The petition, which seeks to remove her from office, raised Sereno’s failure to file her Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) when she was a professor at the University of the Philippines. The Solicitor General has also accused Sereno of fabricating some of her SALNs.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), however, said that the Constitution provides that the Chief Justice can only be removed through impeachment.
According to IBP President Abdiel Fajardo who also spoke at the forum, to oust the Chief Justice through means such as the quo warranto petition would thus be unconstitutional.
Should the move succeed, it can also become the “final blow” to justice in the country, said Robredo.
“Our constitution ensures that [our impeachable officers] are not strong-armed by those in power, and our obligation as citizens enjoins us to stand up to those who go out of the very institution that is supposed to be our last shield against abuse,” she said.
Democracy under attack
The quo warranto petition against the Chief Justice isn’t the only attack made by President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration against democracy, said UP Law Professor and Former Akbayan Representative Barry Gutierrez.
“We have been witness to consistent attacks on every institution which has attempted to exercise their duty of oversight – Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the Ombudsman, the courts, the Senate, the United Nations, the Church, civil society, and the media.”
In September last year, the House of Representatives has attempted a de facto abolition of the CHR, which has been investigating on the President’s bloody drug war, by voting on giving it a meager budget amount of P1,000. Months before, Duterte has accused CHR of defending criminals and having “only criminals” for clients.
Earlier this year, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has also ordered the dissolution and closure of Rappler, an organization that has repeatedly been on the receiving end of attacks from the President himself.
But the case of Rappler is only one example in a multitude of attacks against the media, said Gutierrez.
The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CFMR) and the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) came out with a report detailing at least 85 attacks on journalists during the first 22 months of the Duterte administration. These attacks on the press come in the form of non-renewal of media franchises, online harassment, intimidation, libel cases, police surveillance, death threats, and murders.
More recently, the Bureau of Immigration ordered Patricia Fox, a 71-year-old Australian missionary, to leave the country after the President has asked them to conduct investigations on her engagement in “partisan political activities.”
Fox has been working in the Philippines for 27 years. She has immersed with farmers in the country, visited political prisoners in Compostela Valley, and has joined the picket of Coca-Cola workers in Davao City.
“Clearly, the aversion on any form of oversight – or for that matter, any form of dissent – has become a full-pledged policy being implemented by the full might of the national government,” said Gutierrez.
“There is no silver lining. There is only the unapologetic, unrestrained, and unscrupulous exercise of government power intended to repress our democracy into a tyranny. And the sooner we realize this hard, difficult truth, the sooner we can get to taking the first difficult yet necessary step to putting up an effective and ultimately victorious resistance to it,” he added.