Home / Columnists / Bob Boyer / Chief Justice of Philippines’ Supreme Court, Maria Lourdes Sereno, Ousted by Fellow Justices Following Attacks by Duterte

Chief Justice of Philippines’ Supreme Court, Maria Lourdes Sereno, Ousted by Fellow Justices Following Attacks by Duterte


By: Bob Boyer


Readers of this column, even occasional ones, will be familiar with a series of articles I have done over the years on the topic of “Strong Filipino Women.” For readers who may be less familiar with this subject, I will simply suggest they check the record: pre-and-post-Christian women priests (Babaylans), warrior women, leaders of peaceful revolutions, presidents, vice presidents, poets and ordinary Filipinas. I wouldn’t be the fi rst or only one to add at least one supreme court justice, Maria Lourdes Sereno, to the pantheon of “Strong Filipino Women.”

Sereno came to my attention fairly recently in an article in “The Wall Street Journal” (WSJ, May 11, 2018) by Jake Maxwell Watts, who reported Chief Justice Sereno had that day been removed from offi ce by an 8 to 6 vote of her fellow supreme court justices who had given her ten days to prove her innocence. Sereno asked for more time to make her case, but I could fi nd no evidence that she even received a reply. The Philippine Press reported that the Senate debated a resolution that had been signed by 14 of the 21 senators requesting the supreme court to reconsider its May 11 decision. The senate, however, failed to act on the resolution and recessed for the month of June. By the end of the month, Chief Justice Sereno was in effect ousted from offi ce.

In his WSJ article of May 11, Watts explained that “The ouster capped a monthslong, politically charged battle between the chief justice and the president.” Sereno had for some time openly criticized Duterte’s “deadly anti-drugs campaign.” In an earlier article (WSJ, Mar. 28, 2018), Watts had reported that “drug-enforcement offi cials said . . . that nearly 4100 people have been killed in shootouts with the police.” He added that other sources had much higher estimates of the number of deaths. In April, according to Watts’ May 11 article, “Duterte labeled Ms. Sereno his ‘enemy’ and called for her removal.” Watts also provided a bit of recent history of what had happened to other such prominent outspoken critics of Duterte, including the imprisonment of Senator Leila de Lima. I’ve reported on the still pending trial of Senator de Lima twice in this column (March and December 2017). Watts also mentioned Duterte’s attacks on the press, including “asking” the Securities and Exchange Commission to examine “Rappler, Inc.” The SEC did so and revoked “Rappler’s” license, although it is still publishing, pending the result of a judicial appeal. Similarly “The Inquirer,” despite having recently been conveniently “bought out” by a wealthy Duterte supporter, continues to report regularly on the Sereno Case (my term), as does “Rappler.”

The drama continues to hold public attention, especially with the mid-term 2019 elections looming. Sereno and her supporters, in and out of government, have lost, so far. It is, however, a still-unfolding story with more details coming to light, which could help Sereno. She has recently been publicly invited to run for the senate by members of the opposition Liberal Party, including by Vice President Leni Robredo who has also been critical of Duterte and in turn been attacked by him. Robredo remains popular, however, with the public (as does Duterte himself) and so far has held her own. (I wrote about her also in my December, 2017 article as another prominent “Strong Filipino Woman”). Sereno, “has not ruled out” a run for the Senate in 2019, according to the press.

“Rappler” in some ways deserves especially high marks for its balanced coverage. It highlighted the credible pro-Sereno argument that the supreme court acted unconstitutionally by ousting Sereno since the Constitution explicitly states that a sitting supreme court justice can only be unseated by impeachment by Congress. And while “Rappler” agrees with this constitutional argument, Lian Buan, a Rappler reporter, wrote a cautionary article entitled, “Supreme Court Ghosts haunt Sereno in her next chapter” (July 2). Buan, after a brilliant analysis of the allegations against Sereno, notes that Sereno is confi dent of addressing them successfully. She advises Sereno, however, to put the “Ghosts” to rest publicly before making her next move. Buan deepens the drama, pointing out that three or four of the allegations have, on face-value at least, a measure of credibility. Stay Tuned.

Contact Bob Boyer at Robert.boyer@snc.edu or <anamericaninmanila.com>.

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