Tue, Nov 21, 2017 - Page 5 News List

Philippine top judge warns as Duterte’s allies close in

AFP, MANILA

Supreme Court of the Philippines Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno yesterday said that an attempt by allies of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to impeach her could threaten the country’s democracy.

Lourdes Sereno gave the warning as legislators in the Philippine House of Representatives prepared to begin impeachment hearings against her following a threat by Duterte that Sereno would be forced out.

Sereno has been one of the few voices willing to criticize Duterte for allegedly disregarding due process and attacking other branches of government as part of his brutal anti-crime campaign.

Duterte last month in turn vowed to impeach Sereno for alleged corruption.

His allies in the Philippine Congress are to begin hearings on the impeachment complaint this week.

“This is getting to be larger than myself. This is no longer just about me. It is about democracy,” Sereno told broadcaster ABS-CBN in an interview.

She said the charges against her were fabricated and warned that the judiciary would be under threat if the Duterte government was allowed to pursue her.

“Is the judiciary safe? And if the judiciary is not safe, is democracy safe? Are the constitutional rights of people still assured?” she asked.

Earlier this year, Duterte’s arch-critic, Philippine Senator Leila De Lima, was arrested on charges of drug trafficking. She is behind bars awaiting trial.

De Lima has said the charges were trumped up to silence her.

Rights groups and European lawmakers have said that De Lima is a political prisoner.

Duterte has also called for the impeachment of Phillippine Government Ombudsman Conchita Morales after her office began investigating allegations that Duterte had secret bank accounts containing millions in embezzled funds.

Duterte has been accused of tolerating human rights abuses and ignoring the rule of law as he pursues suspected drug users.

The government says almost 4,000 “drug personalities” have been killed by authorities as part of Duterte’s campaign, but critics say thousands more have died at the hands of government-backed vigilantes.

Duterte enjoys widespread support and his allies control both houses of Congress. However, concern is growing that he is seeking to monopolize power through his attacks on independent branches of government.

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