Mon, Jun 04, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Duterte tells UN justice rapporteur he can ‘go to hell’

AP, MANILA

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday arrives at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea.

Photo: AP

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday lashed out at another UN human rights official for making critical remarks about his supposed role in the expulsion of Philippine Supreme Court chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, saying the official should “go to hell.”

Duterte dismissed the remarks of UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Diego Garcia-Sayan and told him not to meddle in domestic problems as he answered a reporter’s question before departing on a visit to South Korea.

“Tell him not to interfere with the affairs of my country. He can go to hell,” Duterte said at the late-night news conference, which was televised. “He is not a special person and I do not recognize his rapporteur title.”

The unprecedented ouster of Sereno after Duterte lambasted her in public is an attack on judicial independence that could put Philippine democracy at risk, Garcia-Sayan told reporters in Manila on Thursday.

Duterte has reacted with similar public outbursts in the past against other UN rapporteurs who raised alarm and sought an independent investigation into his bloody campaign against illegal drugs, which has left thousands of mostly poor drug suspects dead.

Sereno’s ouster has generated “a climate of intimidation” in the 15-member court and at other levels of the judiciary, Garcia-Sayan said in an interview.

There is no formal UN investigation into Sereno’s removal, but as the rapporteur who looks into threats to independence of judges and lawyers worldwide, he had to speak up when problems are reported anywhere in the world, he said.

“For a rapporteur of the UN on independence of justice to keep silent when a chief justice in any country in the world, even in my country, would be dismissed in such a way is impossible, and it will be immoral to stay silent,” said Garcia-Sayan, who has served as a judge and foreign minister of Peru.

He said he sent questions to the Philippine government about the circumstances leading to the May 11 ouster of Sereno, and expressed hope that the Duterte administration would reply within 60 days and agree to a dialogue on issues that could threaten the judiciary’s independence.

Sereno, 57, was expelled by an 8-to-6 vote on a petition filed by Philippine Solicitor General Jose Calida, who accused her of failing to file asset disclosures as a state university law professor years ago, a charge she denies.

She has appealed the ruling, citing a constitutional principle that top judiciary officials can only be removed by congressional impeachment.

A majority of the 23-member Philippine Senate, including some Duterte allies, has asked the Supreme Court to review its decision, calling it a “dangerous precedent” that infringed on the Philippine Congress’ power to impeach senior officials.

Philippine presidential spokesman Harry Roque said that Garcia-Sayan was misinformed.

While Duterte has been critical of Sereno for claiming that he plotted against her, the president had no hand in her expulsion, Roque said, adding that Duterte’s dislike of Sereno “is not an attack to the judiciary or an affront to judicial independence.”

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