MANILA - A group of 60 judges and lawyers worldwide has said President Rodrigo Duterte's ouster remarks against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is an attack on the Philippines' judiciary.
In a statement, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) condemned Duterte's remarks that he will fast-track Sereno's removal from the high court.
"...the President’s remarks constituted an assault not just on the Chief Justice, but on the independence of the judiciary in the country," the ICJ said.
It added that Duterte should "respect judicial independence" and not "exert political pressure on any government official or agency" that would "undermine the independence of the judiciary."
Sereno last Monday challenged Duterte to disprove allegations that he was behind the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida nullifying her appointment.
This prompted an irate Duterte to declare himself as Sereno's "enemy." The president added that he would "egg Calida to do his best" in the ouster proceedings against Sereno, and ask Congress to "go into the impeachment right away."
Calida has since denied that he consulted the President when he filed a quo warranto petition against Sereno.
The ICJ also urged Duterte to "retract his comments and to refrain in the future from making any statements attacking individual judges or in any way interfering with the independence of the judiciary."
“It is absolutely unacceptable for President Duterte to make such a statement not only because it constitutes direct intimidation of the Chief Justice, but the chilling effect it may have on other independent judges who carry out their professional duties,” ICJ Senior International Legal Adviser Emerlynne Gil said.
“By expressing his personal feelings against the Chief Justice and by directing the House of Representatives to accelerate the impeachment proceedings, the President is actively influencing and interfering with the functions of other co-equal branches of government,” Gil added.
The ouster moves against Sereno accuse her of bypassing colleagues in the issuance of court orders, enjoying a lavish lifestyle, misdeclaring her wealth, and failing to pay about P2 million in taxes.
She has denied the allegations.
Duterte and Sereno first clashed in 2016 when she criticized his order that judges whom he linked to the illegal drugs trade turn themselves in as part of his crackdown.
The country's first female chief justice has been on leave from her duties at the Supreme Court since March in preparation for her impending impeachment trial. She was expected to stay in her post until she reaches the mandatory retirement age in 2030.