Philippine judges, court employees call on top justice to resign

Philippine's Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno listens to a question during the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines forum in Manila, on March 9, 2018.
Philippine's Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno listens to a question during the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines forum in Manila, on March 9, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (REUTERS) - A group of judges and four court employees' organisations called on Monday (March 12) for the Philippines' chief justice to step down and make a "sacrifice" to restore peace and order in the judiciary, a plea she strongly rejected.

Ms Maria Lourdes Sereno, the first woman to head the 15-member Supreme Court, faces impeachment over accusations that she concealed wealth by not filing asset declaration statements for several years before she was appointed.

Ms Sereno, 57, refuses to quit amid what she calls bullying by "those in power", which she says is threatening the independence of the judiciary.

"It is time to let go. Please let the judiciary move on," said a statement from five groups seeking Ms Sereno's resignation, read during a Supreme Court flag-raising ceremony attended by several judges.

Ms Sereno is disliked by President Rodrigo Duterte and has voted against several of his controversial proposals, including extending martial law in restive Mindanao, and allowing the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos to have a grave at a cemetery for national heroes. The Supreme Court allowed both.

Mr Duterte has accused her of being used by opponents who want to overthrow him, but he has denied having a hand in the impeachment of Ms Sereno, who was appointed in 2012 by his predecessor, Mr Benigno Aquino.

The impeachment proceedings in Congress, which is dominated by Mr Duterte's allies, "have put the entire judiciary in disrepute", said the statement, read by the court's employees' group head, Mr Erwin Ocson.

The House justice committee last week found probable cause to impeach Ms Sereno.

She reiterated on Monday that she would not resign and said other judges had resisted pressure to join the campaign against her, so they could "maintain the dignity and independence of the judiciary".

"While the call to resign appeals to my love for the judiciary, it is also out of love for the judiciary that I must continue," Ms Sereno told reporters.

If the House votes to impeach her, the 23 sitting Senators would serve as judges in a trial at the upper house of the bicameral legislature.