Philippine judges, court employees call on top justice to resign

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Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno speaks during an interview with BusinessWorld in this photo taken on February 16, 2018. Photo by Santiago J. Arnaiz/ BUSINESSWORLD

A group of judges and four court employees’ organizations called on Monday for the Philippines’ chief justice to step down and make a “sacrifice” to restore peace and order in the judiciary, a plea she strongly rejected.

Maria Lourdes Sereno, the first woman to head the 15-member Supreme Court, faces impeachment over accusations she concealed wealth by not filing asset declaration statements for several years before she was appointed.

Sereno, 57, refuses to quit amid what she calls bullying by “those in power”, which she says is threatening the independence of the judiciary.

“It is time to let go. Please let the judiciary move on,” says a statement from five groups seeking Sereno’s resignation, read during a Supreme Court flag-raising ceremony attended by several judges.

Sereno is disliked by President Rodrigo Duterte and has voted against several of his controversial proposals, including extending martial law in restive Mindanao, and allowing late dictator Ferdinand Marcos to have a grave at a cemetery for national heroes. The Supreme Court allowed both.

Duterte has accused her of being used by opponents who want to overthrow him, but he has denied having a hand in the impeachment of Sereno, who was appointed in 2012 by his predecessor, Benigno Aquino.

The impeachment proceedings in Congress, which is dominated by Duterte’s allies, “have put the entire judiciary in disrepute”, says the statement, read by the court’s employees’ group head, Erwin Ocson.

The House justice committee last week found probable cause to impeach Sereno. She reiterated on Monday that she would not resign and said other judges had resisted pressure to join the campaign against her, so they could “maintain the dignity and independence of the judiciary”.

“While the call to resign appeals to my love for the judiciary, it is also out of love for the judiciary that I must continue,” Sereno told reporters.

If the House votes to impeach her, the 23 sitting Senators would serve as judges in a trial at the upper house of the bicameral legislature. — Reuters