PH lawyers asked UN to probe Duterte’s alleged attempts to undermine the country’s judiciary

REPORT TO UNITED NATIONS Lawyers Arpee Santiago, Neri Colmenares, Ade Fajardo, Ryan Jay Roset and Tony La Viña show the  report their groups submitted to the UNspecial rapporteur, narrating the recent government attacks on the judiciary that, they say, have a  negative impact on the independence of judges and lawyers. —EDWIN BACASMAS

THE Integrated Bar of the Philippines and five other lawyers’ groups have called on the United Nations to investigate President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration for allegedly undermining the independence of the judiciary by constantly threatening and harassing Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and lawyers who are critical of his administration.

In a 16-page report submitted to UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Diego Garcia-Sayan, the IBP together with the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), Alternative Law Groups (ALG), Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC), Free Legal Assistance Groups (FLAG), Manananggol Laban sa EJKs (Manlaban), and International Pro Bono Alliance (IPBA) gave details how Duterte undermines the independence of the judiciary and Sereno’s authority as Chief Justice.

The groups, in their report, insist that Duterte’s actions against Sereno would “deter judges from asserting their judicial independence and exercising their freedom of expression.”

(File Photo) Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. © Erik De Castro / Reuters

Foremost in the administration’s move to undermine the judiciary, according to the report, is Duterte’s threat to attack (Upakan kita, talagang uupakan kita) Sereno, whom he also tagged as an enemy who needs to be ousted from the Supreme Court.

The report also noted that Duterte, after verbally assaulting the Chief Justice, asked the administration dominated House of Representatives to fast track Sereno’s impeachment while insulting her as “ignorant and dumb and who should resign from her post.”

The report recalled that Duterte’s tirades against Sereno began when she called on the judges whom the President accused of being involved the drug trade not to surrender to authorities without an arrest warrant.

Likewise, the lawyers’ report also cited the case of IBP President Abdiel Dan Fajardo whom the President called out after he defended the Office of the Ombudsman’s inquiry into the alleged ill-gotten wealth of President Duterte and his family.

Moreover, human rights lawyers Jose Molintas, Jr. and Benjamin Ramos, who worked with the UN expert on the mechanisms for the rights of indigenous people and peasant groups were listed by the government as rebels and criminals and subjected to intense surveillance, it added.

This is “blatantly opposed” to Principle 18 of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, stating that lawyers “shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes,” the report alleges.

“The manifest hostility shown by the state against prominent lawyers who have voiced their disagreement with the present administration who are merely exercising their right to do so will effectively mum other lawyers. Under international law, a violation of human rights may lead to international responsibility because of lack of due diligence to prevent the violation or to respond to it,” the report further said.

“The above factual backdrop raises serious and grave implications on the rule of law in the Philippines, particularly the independence of the judiciary and legal profession,” the report added.

The lawyers’ groups justified their move to call on the UN by saying that “the inability of the state to prevent the apparent weakening and undermining of the judiciary gives rise to international responsibility, especially considering the pronouncements of the President relating to [the]immediate ouster Chief Justice Sereno and against the legal profession that performs their duties under this Code of Professional Responsibility.”

“Such jeopardizes the very essence of democracy in the Philippines, particularly the matter of checks and balances. Hence, this appeal for urgent action on the part of the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers,” they added.

IBP President Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajarado Image ©

Meanwhile, Fajardo said in a news conference on Wednesday that “these attacks on the Chief Justice are an attack on the judicial independence which is fundamental in the protection of human rights, democracy and rule of law. As these [attacks]weaken the judiciary, the gravity and frequency of human rights violations will worsen.”

Former Bayan Muna Party-list Representative and NUPL chair Neri Colmenares, for his part, said the President had resorted to “public vilification using presidential platform.”

Duterte’s renewed vicious attack against Sereno comes as the Supreme Court is expected to rule anytime on Solicitor General Jose Calida’s quo warranto petition, which seeks to oust Sereno on the grounds that she failed to submit her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC).

Aside from the quo warranto petition, Sereno is also facing an impeachment complaint at the House of Representatives for supposed betrayal of public trust, corruption and culpable violation of the Constitution because of her failure to submit all the copies of her SALNs as a member of the UP College of Law faculty.

As this developed, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque denied that the executive department was attacking the judiciary or its independence. He also insisted that Malacañang is not behind the moves to unseat Sereno.

Roque also played down the President’s tirades against the Chief Justice saying these were just an expression of dislike noting that the President had kept silent on the impeachment moves against Sereno for a long time but then she accused him of having a hand in the efforts to remove her from office.

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