MANILA – Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque has called on Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to resign, saying President Rodrigo Duterte wants her removed from the position “by all means”.
In reaction, Sereno’s camp said that such remarks simply mean that the evidence against the Chief Justice is weak.
In a press conference on Monday morning, Roque was asked to comment on a statement by Sereno about the resurgence of political forces that have “threatened and harassed” the independence of the judiciary.
Roque said he disagreed with her opinion, and that he did not know what the executive branch had done to undermine the independence of the judiciary. In fact, he noted that Duterte, as a lawyer, took an oath to uphold his duties as an officer of the court, and part of this is to “uphold the independence of what really is the weakest branch of government.”
Asked if Sereno made the statement because of the impeachment complaint against her, Roque replied that an impeachment proceeding, being a constitutional procedure, cannot be a way to undermine the independence of the judiciary.
“If at all, perhaps what will undermine the independence of the judiciary would be acts committed by judicial agents that would lead to the initiation of the impeachment proceedings,” he said.
“She has only to blame herself if she feels that the impeachment proceedings has affected the independence of the judiciary,” he continued, referring to the Chief Justice.
Asked if he thought Sereno needed to resign, Roque answered, “I believe so.”
Judiciary can’t survive another CJ being removed?
“(A)s a senior lawyer, as a law professor, I do not think the judiciary can survive another decision that would remove an incumbent chief justice. I think it is high time now for Chief Justice to reexamine very carefully the effect of another removal to the institution itself. It cannot be that there will be a second instance that a sitting chief justice will be removed as a result of the decision of the Senate. We cannot wait for that. If we were to wait for that, it is the finding of guilt that will undermine the independence of the judiciary. So I call upon Chief Justice Sereno to really consider resigning if only to spare the institution from any further damage,” he said.
Asked if this was also the President’s position, Roque said, “Of course, the President wants her removed altogether, ‘no, by all means. And of course, like (former Commission on Elections chairman) Andy Bautista, she could spare the court from further damage by voluntarily resigning.”
In response, Atty. Josa Deinla, one of Sereno’s spokespersons, reminded Roque in a statement issued on the same day that he is now speaking for the President and not just for himself.
“Didn’t the President say earlier that it will be “hands off” and [he would] have nothing to do with the impeachment?” she asked.
Deinla believes that Roque’s call for resignation merely signifies that the evidence in the impeachment complaint against Sereno is weak.
“Alam naman ng publiko na ang alegasyon laban kay Chief Justice Sereno ay malisyoso at walang matibay na basehan. Higit sa lahat, ang mga sinasabing mga paratang ay hindi impeachable offenses batay sa isinasaad ng ating Konstitusyon (The public knows that the allegations against Chief Justice Sereno are malicious and have no strong basis. Furthermore, the accusations against her are not impeachable offenses based on what our Constitution says),” Deinla said.
“It would be prudent for Atty. Roque not to prejudge the case and let it run its course in accordance with the Constitution. After all–and Atty. Roque as one of the endorsers of the complaint knows this very well–the case will soon be deliberated upon at the House Committee on Justice where the rights of the Chief Justice as respondent ought to be respected,” she continued.
Deinla called Roque’s pronouncements “premature and misdirected,” considering that Sereno’s accusers “are the ones inflicting damage to the Supreme Court.”
“The Chief Justice remains unfazed by the false accusations against her and is as resolved as ever to keep serving the people at the helm of the Judiciary,” Deinla emphasized.
In fact, she said, Sereno is at the forefront of reforming and fixing the system of the judiciary so that the public may feel the wheels of justice turn (“ang pag-usad ng hustisya“).
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