President Duterte has hit out at a UN legal expert for making critical remarks about his role in the expulsion of the chief justice, telling him to “go to hell”.
Speaking today (Sunday, June 3), the president dismissed remarks by Diego Garcia-Sayan and warned him not to meddle in domestic affairs. His words were in reply to a reporter’s question before he departed for a visit to South Korea.
“Tell him not to interfere with the affairs of my country. He can go to hell,” he said in a late-night televised news conference. “He is not a special person and I do not recognise his rapporteur title.” Garcia-Sayan’s official title is ‘Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers’.
Garcia-Sayan had said on Thursday that the unprecedented removal of Maria Lourdes Sereno as chief justice was an attack on judicial independence that could put Philippine democracy at risk. The president had previously backed her removal, describing her as his “enemy”.
Today was only the latest public outburst against UN rapporteurs, who have previously raised alarm and sought an independent investigation into the controversial war on drugs.
Sereno’s removal has generated “a climate of intimidation” in the 15-member high court and other levels of the judiciary, Garcia-Sayan said in an interview with The Associated Press.
He added that while there was no formal UN investigation into Sereno’s removal, as the UN rapporteur who looks into threats to independence of judges and lawyers worldwide, he had a duty to speak up.
“For a rapporteur of the UN on independence of justice to keep silent when a chief justice in any country in the world would be dismissed in such way is impossible, and it will be immoral to stay silent,” he said.
Sereno was expelled by an 8-6 vote on a petition filed by government Solicitor General Jose Calida, who accused her of failing to file asset disclosures, a charge she denies. It pre-empted impeachment proceedings against Sereno that were already underway in Congress.
Sereno has appealed the ruling, stressing that top judiciary officials can only be removed by congressional impeachment.
A majority of the Senate, including some Duterte loyalists, has asked the Supreme Court to review its decision, calling it a “dangerous precedent”.