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Ouster of Philippine chief justice condemned

MANILA (Agencies): “We condemn in the strongest terms the desecration of our constitution and democratic institutions,” Father Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of the social action secretariat of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines said in reaction to the country’s Supreme Court of the Philippines kicked out its chief justice in an unprecedented decision handed down on May 11.
With eight justices voting in favour and six against, the court granted a quo warranto (by what authority) petition to remove chief justice, Maria Lourdes Sereno, from office. It was the first time in Philippine history that the highest court has removed its own chief.
Sereno’s alleged failure to declare her assets and liabilities before she was named head of the judiciary in 2012 was cited as the reason for initiating the proceedings.
The justices who voted to oust her ruled that the quo warranto was the proper remedy by which to remove Sereno.
One of the justices who opposed the petition, Marvic Leonen, was reported by The Guardian newspaper as calling the petition “a legal abomination” that should have been dismissed outright.
The Guardian quoted Sereno as telling supporters, “Let’s continue to defend the constitution and fight wrongdoing. Let’s continue to spread the message of democracy and reason.” 
She also said the justices who voted to remove her usurped “the sole responsibility of the Senate, brazenly violated their sworn responsibility to protect the constitution and destroyed the judiciary.” 
Father Gariguez said the decision only showed that Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, “has succeeded in controlling the judiciary.”
He said, “The decision was expected because the accusers are themselves the judges. The wily manipulation by the Duterte administration was so effective.” 
Father Gariguez said the issue was not only about Sereno, but also about “creating a rubber stamp Supreme Court subservient to the whims and caprices of a tyrannical president.”
In a separate statement, the bishops’ National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice, and Peace, said Sereno’s removal could be part of a grand plan to impose totalitarian rule.
“The chief justice was an impediment to Duterte’s plan to make all his efforts legal and constitutional, thus she had to be removed,” said the secretariat.
Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila, a vocal critic of Duterte’s administration, wrote on his blog taht Sereno’s removal “subverted democracy.”
He said, “The Supreme Court fell.... It self-destructed by granting the quo warranto. It fell from being a bastion of independence in our democratic system” and “lost the esteem and even the respect of the people.”
He warned, “The Supreme Court has fallen. Malacanang will be the next!”
The Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines issued a statement supporting groups that oppose efforts to destroy the Philippines’ judicial system.
“Together with other concerned citizens of our country, we feel that the process of unseating the chief justice is not right,” the statement read.
The group said Sereno’s removal via a quo warranto petition was a “wrongful way of action.”
The statement said, “Shortcuts are inimical to what our justice system stands for. Why not follow proper and legal procedures which may take a longer time?” 
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers called on judges and lawyers “to step-up protests against the breakdown of the rule of law and the erosion of judicial independence.”
It the Supreme Court decision “deplorable, contemptuous and a contortion of the constitution.”
In a statement, it said it was abhorrent “to see the Supreme Court majority surrender its independence” to political pressure.
“The present dispensation has practically crippled all the democratic institutions that supposedly ensure checks and balances within the government,” the group said.
The lawyers said the Supreme Court’s decision “literally sprawled the red carpet for dictatorial rule.”
Students and youth organisations across the country also called for protests, call the ouster “an attack on judicial independence and the consolidation of President Duterte’s power and complete control over the government.”

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