By Corina Oliquino | FilAm Star Correspondent
MANILA – United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Diego García-Sayán assessed that there was a “worrisome deterioration of the rule of law and that the independence of justice in the Philippines is under attack “ last June 1.
Citing his unofficial findings, García-Sayán said his statements rooted from the quo warranto ouster of former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, which was handed down by the same institution she served, the Supreme Court.
“The decision of the Supreme Court was issued two days after the President of the Philippines publicly threatened the Chief Justice by saying that she was his enemy and that she should be removed from her job or resign,” García-Sayán told Rappler.
García-Sayán noted that the ouster “sends a chilling effect” to other justices and lower court judges.
“Not only do they constitute direct intimidation of the Chief Justice; they also appear to have had a ‘chilling effect’ on other Supreme Court justices, who may have been deterred from asserting their judicial independence and exercising their freedom of expression,” García-Sayán said.
In a report by GMA News, García-Sayán said in a statement that Duterte’s pronouncements that Sereno was his enemy and that she had to go appeared “directly related” to the Supreme Court decision on May 11 to oust her from her post.
“The unprecedented decision of the Supreme Court of the Philippines seems directly related to the threats made against the Chief Justice in relation to her professional activities in defense of the independence of the judiciary,” García-Sayán added.
The report also highlighted Duterte’s repeated denial of his involvement in both the quo warranto case against Sereno before the Supreme Court and the impeachment complaint against her before the House of Representatives.
A statement issued by Malacañang, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said that García-Sayán had “been misinformed” on the issue of Sereno’s removal.
It has been reported that Sereno’s supporters, including the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, called on the UN Special Rapporteur to take action on her case.
“We reiterate that the President’s dislike of the ousted Chief Justice is not an attack to the judiciary or an affront to judicial independence,” Roque said.
In another report by Rappler, García-Sayán also related his pronouncements to the government’s war on drugs, with Sereno first earning the ire of Duterte in 2016 when she tried to intervene on behalf of judges whom Duterte named as linked to drugs.
“The use of such derogatory language against the highest-ranking magistrate in the country sends a clear message to all judges of the Philippines: in the so called ‘war on drugs’, you’re either with me or against me.”
“Go to hell”
Prior to his departure to South Korea for an official visit, President Duterte on June 3 said that UN Special Rapporteur García-Sayán had no right to interfere with the issues of the country.
“(García-Sayán) is not a special person and I do not recognize his rapporteur title. Tell him not to interfere with the affairs of my country. He can go to hell. Tell him,” Duterte told reporters according to The Philippine Star.
“B*******t. He is meddling. That’s an internal problem of the country. You should not meddle with it,” Duterte added.
“Same old rhetoric”
In a statement regarding Duterte’s latest tirade against UN Rapporteurs, Human Rights Watch said in a statement said that Duterte’s tirade against Diego García-Sayán, UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, is the “same tired, old rhetoric” designed to frustrate attempts by international bodies to look into the victims of extra-judicial killings in the government’s war on drugs.
“President Duterte has been trying to evade accountability for these killings by subjecting UN experts and investigators as well as human rights defenders to relentless attacks,” HRW Asia Division Researcher Conde told The Philippine Star.