Philippines: Supreme Court Chief Justice Alarmed By Killing, Lawlessness By Police and Alleged Vigilante Groups in Association with President Duterte’s War on Drugs

Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno meets the press in Intramuros, Manila yesterday. MIGUEL DE GUZMAN

MANILA, Philippines – Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno expressed concern yesterday over the climate of impunity hounding the nation amid a spate of killings related to the brutal war on drugs launched by President Duterte.

“I am alarmed by the situation of impunity in our country whereby our court processes are not effected by law enforcement agencies,” the Supreme Court chief said during the annual Meet the Press forum yesterday to mark her fourth year in office.

She did not directly cite the ongoing killings of drug suspects – both by police authorities and alleged vigilante groups – Sereno cited cases of killings of judges and journalists.

“I view the security of our judges very seriously. Since January 1999 to date, a total of 26 judges have been slain in the service,” she said.

The SC chief also cited the case involving the killing of journalist Marlene Esperat in 2005 and other criminal cases wherein arrest warrants issued by regional trial courts were not enforced by police.

It is difficult for the courts if, after issuing arrest warrants, the police will not effect them.

Sereno stressed that the judiciary has been doing its part to protect constitutional rights of the people and make sure due process is observed.

“We are very proactive – as proactive as we can be – in trying to ensure constitutional rights are to be respected, but you must remember that our role comes in when a justiciable controversy is before us,” she said.

She lamented that courts’ actions to address impunity are limited as these are dependent on cooperation of law enforcers, especially in cases of writs of habeas data, habeas corpus and amparo.

“You must remember that the judiciary does not have a single field investigation officer. It keeps on requesting help and issuing directives to the investigating agencies. And the hope of the people is that they will do their mandate.”

Sereno gave assurance that the judiciary is addressing the illegal drug menace within its power.

“How do courts provide justice in drug cases? Obviously, they expedite the resolution of all the drug cases. What it can provide is justice to the state and the victims if there is enough evidence of guilt, and to the accused if there is none,” she said.

The Chief Justice revealed that there are 138,368 pending drug cases in trial courts as of May 2016, which represent 29 percent of the total of 439,606 pending criminal cases.

She said the judiciary would work with the Philippine National Police and Department of Justice to ensure that justice is served.

They will also crack down on the “ineffective, delayed and corrupt execution of court judgments” and ensure that judges are secure, with the help of law enforcement agencies.

“Our people must have a reason to trust the government,” she said.

She suggested that more prosecutors and public attorneys be hired for this purpose.

Sereno lamented that many drug cases are delayed or dismissed due to the “absence of police witnesses, the dearth of prosecutors or public attorneys and the weak evidence of the prosecution.”

She cited the case of Marine Lt. Col. Ferdinand Marcelino, who was cleared by the DOJ on drug charges.

“The judiciary should not be blamed when no case was ever filed against him by the prosecutors. Our judge had no choice but to release him as there was no legal basis to continue holding him in jail,” she said as she gave assurance that the “wheels of justice are hastening” in drug and other cases.

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