MANILA • The Philippine Supreme Court has voted to remove its top judge, whom President Rodrigo Duterte called an "enemy" for voting against controversial government proposals, citing alleged violations in the way she was appointed.
One opposition party said the ouster of Ms Maria Lourdes Sereno, the country's first female chief justice (CJ), removed a shield against abuse of power in government and left behind a "puppet Supreme Court".
By a vote of 8:6, the court yesterday granted the government's petition to cancel Ms Sereno's appointment on the grounds of alleged violations in the appointment process.
"Maria Lourdes Sereno is found disqualified from, and hereby adjudged guilty of unlawfully holding and exercising, the office of the chief justice," said court spokesman Theodore Te.
Ms Sereno is the first chief justice to be removed by her peers and the second top judge to lose the post after her predecessor was impeached for non-disclosure of wealth.
The court declared Ms Sereno's position vacant with immediate effect and ordered the judicial and Bar council to begin a new selection process, Mr Te said.
It gave Ms Sereno a deadline of 10 days after receiving a copy of its decision to explain why she should not be sanctioned for a number of alleged violations, such as "casting aspersions and ill-motive to the members of the Supreme Court".
Ms Sereno has denied any wrongdoing, and her spokesman, Mr Jojo Lacanilao, said she would appeal the decision. "It is a sad day," he said in a television interview.
An hour after the ruling, Ms Sereno emerged from her office and urged supporters to "defend the Constitution and fight wrongdoing". "Let's continue to spread the message of democracy and reason," she said.
Mr Duterte's lawyer Salvador Panelo and government spokesman Harry Roque issued separate statements asking the public to respect the ruling. The scene outside the court in Manila, where crowds of supporters and opponents of Ms Sereno had gathered, was calm after the ruling.
Opposition politicians denounced the ruling. Senator Risa Hontiveros called it "a direct stab to the heart of our Constitution".
Ms Sereno's Akbayan party said the country was "a heartbeat away" from the death of democracy. "After having a lapdog Congress and a seriously wounded Senate, we now have a puppet Supreme Court," the party said in a statement.
Mr Duterte has made no secret of his dislike of Ms Sereno.
She voted against several of his proposals, such as extending martial law on a restive island and allowing late dictator Ferdinand Marcos to be buried in a cemetery for national heroes.
In October last year, Mr Duterte dared Ms Sereno to open her bank account to public scrutiny, accusing her of corruption and of being used by his political opponents.
Yesterday's ruling came before Congress, controlled by Mr Duterte's allies, returns from its Easter break next week to vote on an impeachment complaint against Ms Sereno.