Duterte is impeaching away the Philippines’ democratic institutions

Protesters burn an effigy bearing a image of President Rodrigo Duterte during a May Day rally outside the Malacanang Presidential Palace in Manila, Philippines on 1 May 2018. (Photo: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco.)

Authors: Cristina Regina Bonoan, AUF, and Björn Dressel, ANU

The Duterte administration’s efforts to remove the Philippine Supreme Court’s chief justice and other high-ranking officials critical of the administration have raised the stakes for the Philippines’ democratic institutions.

Former chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is seen as a critic by the administration. President Rodrigo Duterte, who claimed that she is part of a plot to oust him, publicly threatened Sereno with impeachment, and in September 2017, the House Committee on Justice accepted a complaint filed by Duterte-allied lawyer Lorenzo Gadon alleging that Sereno had committed corruption, culpable violation of the Constitution and other high crimes. Gadon’s charges also included betrayal of public trust in accusations that Sereno had criticised Duterte’s imposition of martial law in parts of the country, practiced favouritism with judicial personnel, made public statements in reply to the President’s accusations of judges being involved in the drug trade, and prevented justices of the court of appeals from making courtesy calls to Duterte in an effort to separate the co-equal branches of government.

Sereno’s lawyers, who were barred from attending the months-long congressional hearings, asserted that the charges were baseless and did not constitute impeachable offenses. Even as testimonies and documents presented had failed to produce compelling evidence, the House Committee on Justice recommended Sereno’s impeachment for a vote by the entire House of Representatives.

The impeachment vote against Sereno was eventually aborted by the Solicitor General’s quo warranto petition — a type of legal action that challenges a person’s right to or authority over an office. Voting eight to six, the Supreme Court ruled that Sereno’s appointment as chief justice was invalid for her failure to comply with the requirement of submitting statements of assets back when she was a law professor at the University of the …continue reading