Philippines' top court votes to oust Duterte-critic judge

Manila (AFP) –


Judges of the Philippines' top court voted Friday to remove their chief justice, who faced ouster efforts after battling with President Rodrigo Duterte over his deadly war on drugs.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is one of several high-profile Philippine critics who have found themselves targeted after speaking out against the president's signature crackdown.

"Sereno is found disqualified from and hereby adjudged guilty of unlawfully holding and exercising the office of the chief justice," court spokesman Theodore Te told reporters.

"The decision is immediately executory without further need of action from the court," Te said, adding the vote was 8-6 against Sereno.

The Supreme Court case against Sereno, the nation's first female chief justice, alleged she failed to file statements of assets and liabilities in years past -- accusations she categorically denied.

Separately, Sereno was also facing an impeachment effort in the lower House of Representatives, a move which critics allege is part of wider efforts by Duterte to destroy foes and usher in one-man rule.

Sereno had pledged to fight the ouster effort, saying in March: "The current state of the nation is one where perceived enemies of the dominant order are considered fair game for harassment, intimidation and persecution."

Duterte last month urged lawmakers to "fast-track" her removal, warning otherwise "I'll do it for you".

Sereno has been accused of failing to pay about two million pesos ($40,000) in taxes as well as falsifying and tampering with court resolutions.

She is also alleged to have spent excessively on "opulent" hotels and a luxury official vehicle, as well as flying business or first class.

Sereno is the second chief justice in a row to be ousted in the Philippines. Lawmakers convicted her predecessor, Renato Corona, in 2012 of corruption allegations.

Then-president Benigno Aquino said the sacking was part of his anti-graft reforms, but critics said he aimed to ensure his control of the court.

Duterte and Sereno first clashed in 2016 when she criticised his order that judges whom he linked to the illegal drugs trade turn themselves in as part of his crackdown.

Police say they have killed roughly 4,200 drug suspects who fought back during arrest since Duterte launched the war nearly two years ago. Rights groups allege the actual number is three times higher.

Other Duterte critics have also been ousted, punished or threatened including detained Senator Leila de Lima, the Commission on Human Rights, and an anti-corruption prosecutor who investigated allegations Duterte has hidden wealth.