Manila, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte lashed out Sunday at another U.N. human rights expert for making critical remarks about his supposed role in the expulsion of the chief justice, telling him “to go to hell.”
Duterte dismissed the remarks of Diego Garcia-Sayan and told him not to meddle in domestic problems. Duterte was replying to a reporter’s question before flying on a visit to South Korea.
“Tell him not to interfere with the affairs of my country. He can go to hell,” Duterte said in a late-night televised news conference. “He is not a special person and I do not recognize his rapporteur title.”
Garcia-Sayan told reporters in Manila on Thursday that the unprecedented ouster of Maria Lourdes Sereno as chief justice after Duterte lambasted her in public is an attack on judicial independence that could put Philippine democracy at risk.
Duterte has reacted with similar public outbursts in the past against other U.N. rapporteurs who raised alarm and sought an independent investigation into his bloody campaign against illegal drugs, which has left thousands of mostly poor drug suspects dead. Police blamed the deaths on clashes with law enforcers.
Sereno’s ouster 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 in Manila.
He added that there was no formal U.N. investigation into Sereno’s removal, but as the U.N. rapporteur who looks into threats to independence of judges and lawyers worldwide, he had to speak up when problems are reported anywhere in the world. He cited his upcoming report on such a threat to the judiciary in Poland.
“For a rapporteur of the U.N. on independence of justice to keep silent when a chief justice in any country in the world, even in my country, would be dismissed in such way is impossible, and it will be immoral to stay silent,” Garcia-Sayan, a former justice and foreign minister of Peru, said.
He said he sent questions to the Philippine government about the circumstances leading to the May 11 ouster of Sereno and expressed hopes that the Duterte administration would reply within 60 days and agree to a dialogue on issues that could threaten the judiciary’s independence.
Sereno, 57, 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 as a state university law professor years ago, a charge she denies. It pre-empted impeachment proceedings against Sereno that were then underway in Congress.
Sereno has appealed the ruling, citing a constitutional principle that top judiciary officials can only be removed by congressional impeachment. A majority of the 23-member Senate, including some Duterte allies, has asked the Supreme Court to review its decision, calling it a “dangerous precedent” that infringed on Congress’ power to impeach senior officials.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Garcia-Sayan was misinformed and added that while Duterte has been critical of Sereno for claiming that he plotted against her, the president had no hand in her expulsion. His dislike of Sereno “is not an attack to the judiciary or an affront to judicial independence,” Roque said.