Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno wrote a letter to President Rodrigo Duterte after he named seven judges in his list of government officials allegedly involved with the illegal drug trade.
In her four-page letter, sent to the President through Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, Sereno gave some observations on each judge, citing that one was killed, another was dismissed due to gross ignorance of the law, one retired in June 2016, and three others do not handle drug cases. Only one judge presides over a drug court.
Explaining the judges’ role in observing and protecting the Constitutional rights, Sereno advised the accused judges not to surrender unless a warrant is issued.
“To safeguard the role of the judges as the protector of the constitutional rights, I would caution them very strongly against “surrendering” or making themselves physically accountable to any police officer in the absence of any duly-issued warrant of arrest that is pending,” she said.
She added that only the Supreme Court can decide when judges can forego bench duty.
“As the sole entity charged with the discipline of judges, the Supreme Court decided when judges are excused from bench duty and report to it,” Sereno said.
While expressing appreciation of Duterte’s effort in helping remove narco judges from their ranks, Sereno said that it only takes an informal report from him or his representatives for the Court to launch an investigation into the suspected judges and suspend their court activities.
Sereno said that the Supreme Court is one with Duterte in his fight against dangerous drugs with their proactive investigation of any report about any of the judges’ possible involvement with the trade.
“We are currently investigating a report on a judge who may be so involved. He is not on the above list,” Sereno wrote.
The Chief Justice also called Duterte’s move to reveal his narco list a “premature announcement” that may render the accused judges “useless” in carrying on with their adjudicative role.
She also emphasized how there have been 26 judges since 1999 who have been killed, mainly due to drug lords, of which she promised to give the President a separate update.
Sereno explained the Court’s administrative mechanisms in investigating judges, mainly by replacing suspended or disciplined judges, to avoid disrupting their public service. But Duterte’s announcement is bound to cause issues among the accused judges’ scheduled hearings and other appointments in their salas.
Sereno also pointed out the fact that the accused judges in the narco list might fall victim to extrajudicial killings, like hundreds of others, especially since Duterte has ordered the cancellation of the firearms licenses and permits given to the people on his list when they do not have a security detail for the judges.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer published Sereno’s four-page letter, found here.
CHR says naming, shaming is human rights violation
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said that Duterte’s name-and-shame campaign in his war against drugs is violating people’s rights.
“Naming and shaming cannot be substitute to probable cause under our due process system,” CHR Chito Gascon told the media on August 8.
He instead suggested for the government to file charges against the suspects instead of publicly naming them.
“Otherwise the name-and-shame campaign may undermine the presumption of innocence guaranteed by our Constitution,” he said.
Gascon also brought up how barangays even have a list of drug suspects, questioning its credibility.
“Unlike the list provided to the President, which we assumed underwent investigation, the people in the barangay lists have no opportunity to question their inclusion,” he said.
CHR lawyers are eyeing to file a writ of amparo to stop barangays from listing drug suspects.