What's next for ousted Chief Justice Sereno?

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 19) — Now that Maria Lourdes Sereno is out as Chief Justice, she promises to take on a different task: to hold the Duterte government accountable for its actions.

"I stand before you now, stripped of my authority and position by an unjust decision. But I do not have to be Chief Justice to defend our laws and institutions," Sereno said before her supporters at the University of the Philippines Diliman Tuesday, shortly after the Supreme Court ousted her with finality.

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It was her most combative speech against President Rodrigo Duterte so far, even calling him a "blasphemous, self-styled savior who is willing to kill."

More than 4,000 suspects have been killed in Duterte's bloody war on drugs, government data show, but Malacañang has repeatedly said there are no state-sanctioned killings. Human rights watchdogs have cited numbers of up to 13,000 dead.

A month into the presidency, Duterte warned Sereno of a constitutional crisis after she expressed concern over his drug war.

Possible Senate run

Sereno on Tuesday told CNN Philippines she did not mean to sound like a politician when she slammed Duterte's public announcement of alleged drug personalities, including seven judges, in August 2016.

"We have a unique president who did not hesitate to attack the institutions... It was a matter of necessity for me to answer him and rebut his proposition," Sereno said.

She revealed some supporters have been urging her to run for public office, but said she has not made up her mind yet.

"The focus of my effort right now is to unify all the voices that have said there is something terribly wrong in our country," she said.

She said she will eventually announce her decision, adding that she understands the filing of candidacy for the 2019 senatorial polls starts in October.

 

Calling Duterte to task

In her earlier speech, Sereno deplored the Duterte administration's supposed attacks against independent bodies tasked with upholding justice and ensuring government officials' accountability: the judiciary, Office of the Ombudsman, and the Commission on Human Rights.

Duterte lashed out at the heads of the three bodies, including Sereno, after they voiced disagreements with some of his policies, including the drug war.

"The responsibility for the weakening of rule of law is his," Sereno said, referring to Duterte. She said Duterte's actions demonstrate his disregard for the Constitution and the rule of law.

Sereno demanded that Duterte answer "nagging questions" about his controversial policies, including the country's economic future amid rising prices brought by the tax reform, his plans to alleviate the suffering of drivers who cannot afford modernized jeepneys, and the filing of charges against corrupt officials he fired but reassigned to other government posts.

Sereno also questioned Duterte's plan to amend the Constitution and his friendly relations towards China despite the long-standing dispute in the South China Sea.

"The unity we have forged these last months will be the foundation of a genuine people's movement that will hold the government accountable for its actions," Sereno said.

Sereno out as Chief Justice

The government's top lawyer, Solicitor General Jose Calida, filed the quo warranto petition against Sereno last March. This petition, a legal proceeding challenging one's right to hold office, was granted by the Supreme Court on May 11, making Sereno the first top magistrate to be ousted by the High Court.

In junking Sereno's motion for reconsideration on Tuesday, the Supreme Court also ordered the Judicial and Bar Council to start the 90-day selection for Sereno's replacement. Duterte gets to appoint the next Chief Justice.

Duterte had declared himself an enemy of Sereno, apparently irked by her insistence about his possible involvement in her ouster petition.

While Sereno's camp maintained impeachment is the only way to oust a Chief Justice, it accepted that the legal fight is over when the High Court ruled on Sereno's ouster with finality on Tuesday.

Jojo Lacanilao, Sereno's spokesperson told CNN Philippines Sereno will "continue to be the voice of the people."

Vice President Leni Robredo, herself an opposition figure, joined several lawmakers in criticizing the Supreme Court's "unjust" decision and called for the public to defend the country's democracy.

"In our rage and grief, we cannot give in to despair, for this is but one of the many battles that we must fight for our democracy, and for the people it is intended to serve," Robredo said in a statement.

House leaders, meanwhile, welcomed the High Court's ruling and said this makes the impeachment process moot and academic.