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Rights group calls for judicial independence amid Sereno ouster

Rights group calls for judicial independence amid Sereno ouster

Sereno, who was the country's first female chief justice, is the first constitutional officer ousted outside impeachment proceedings and the second chief justice in Philippine history to be removed from office.

She has been accused of failing to pay about two million pesos (£29,500) in taxes as well as falsifying and tampering with court resolutions.

Sereno was the first woman to head the Supreme Court and the first chief justice to be forced out through a government petition. "Let us respect its decision granting the quo warranto petition as the proper remedy and the quo warranto petition ruling against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno". Sereno denies the allegation and refused to participate in the vote.

Leonen was appointed on November 12, 2012, after Sereno was chosen chief justice by then-President Benigno Aquino III on August 24, 2012.

About 1,800 protesters gathered to support Sereno outside the court in Manila, where anti-riot police blocked an access road with trucks and iron railings to maintain order and separate a smaller group of anti-Sereno demonstrators.

The House of Representatives is yet to approve the articles of impeachment which is needed so that the Senate can convene as an impeachment court.

The Philippine Supreme Court spokesman says Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has been ousted in a vote by fellow judges acting on a government petition, which sought her removal in a move she calls unconstitutional.

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TRT World spoke Ana Santos in Manila.

"This is more than a wake-up call".

"It does not deserve space in judicial deliberation within our constitutional democratic space", Leonen said in his dissenting opinion, arguing that the process by which Sereno had been removed "is a legal abomination".

The Philippines has on paper an independent judiciary which is meant to be a check and balance on executive power.

After the SC's official announcement of the ruling, Sereno immediately stepped out of the SC building and spoke to her supporters. "Duterte will be a virtual dictator so the institutions should really wake up".

Critics warned the court action would set a unsafe precedent and give the Duterte administration a legal weapon to muzzle dissent. In a statement, the Con-com said the body "will consider the Sereno case in designing the Federal Judiciary".

"It primarily affects the entire nation as the Supreme Court literally sprawled the red carpet for dictatorial rule".

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Atty. John Edward Gando, board member of IBP-Guimaras Chapter, said he was also surprised by the SC decision.

"Today is not the end, but only the beginning", she told supporters outside the tribunal's compound after the vote. "And the Supreme Court itself must also take the time to review its own decision".

Duterte said he had avoided getting involved in efforts to remove Sereno but got fed up. "This is not what we expect from the Supreme Court", he said.

The justice committee of the House found probable cause to impeach Sereno with a vote of 38-2. Six of Sereno's fellow justices testified against her in the hearings that started in September, exposing rifts in the high court.

Sereno told the crowd: "Let's continue to defend the constitution and fight wrongdoing".

Worldwide rights groups and local critics have accused the 73-year-old Duterte of moving toward authoritarianism after declaring martial law in the south amid a major attack by pro-Islamic State group militants last year. The five-month siege was quelled but martial law has been extended.

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