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A defective democracy

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It pains us to see what is happening to our motherland, the Republic of the Philippines.


Last week, it was brought to the fore that the checks and balances that are part and parcel of a fully functioning democratic state are absent in the Philippines. This was seen in the hasty removal of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, not through impeachment but by a quo warranto petition that saw a small majority of the Supreme Court voting to disqualify her.


Numerous legal luminaries have pointed out one very clear fact: the Philippine Constitution states that the only way to remove a chief justice is through impeachment. Yet the majority of the justices blatantly ignored this, apparently bowing to the wishes of the president to remove Sereno from her post at all cost.


Sereno may have been removed, but the price to be paid will be heavy, so heavy in fact that democracy itself now stands on the precipice. At worst, it may not survive.


Consider that the Philippines has already rid itself of two presidents (Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada) via people power, and a chief justice via impeachment (Renato Corona). Now this.


The removal of Sereno is different in that it was both immoral and illegal.


The justices who voted to remove her did so out of personal spite. They did not like her because in their minds she was too young. Never mind that as chief justice, Sereno had been performing admirably.


But it was the illegal way that the good justices had Sereno removed that may have done permanent damage to the country’s judiciary. Perhaps sensing that impeaching Sereno would have been difficult, if not impossible, they recognized the quo warranto petition that was itself illegal. The time when Sereno could have been removed due to questions over her incomplete filing of requirements had long lapsed. Sereno had been accused of not filing her complete Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth, or SALN.


She later proved that she did, in fact, have the documents. But the SC justices ignored it. In truth, the lead justice who had long salivated for the post of chief justice and who admitted that she hated the guts of Sereno had herself failed to file her SALNs when she also applied for the position of chief justice.


Ah, but here was an incumbent president who had ordered the legislative branch to remove the independent-minded chief justice, and who had somehow been convinced that there were enough SC justices willing to play a part in the illegal and immoral act.


We will not hazard a guess as to the reasons the justices kowtowed to the wishes of the president.


Suffice it to say that in so doing, they have totally surrendered the independence of the judicial branch of government to the strongman president. And with both houses of Congress already subservient to Rodrigo Duterte, it has become clear that the Philippines is no longer a functioning democracy, but rather a flawed one.


Whether the damage can be undone or not remains to be seen, but for now we see no reason to be optimistic.


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