The Supreme Court of the Philippines expelled a judge on Thursday branded an “enemy” by President Rodrigo Duterte.
The sacking comes a month after Duterte declared Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno his enemy. Sereno is the country’s first woman to hold that office and an outspoken critic of Duterte’s brutal war on drugs.
“I am putting you on notice that I am now your enemy,” Duterte said. “I will not hesitate to do what is in the best interest of my country. If it calls for your forced removal, I will do it.”
As well as her vocal criticism, Lourdes had angered Duterte by previously urging judges accused of being involved in the drug trade not to turn themselves into authorities unless presented with a warrant, while also voting against his decision to declare martial law in an attempt to crack down on Islamic militants.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court granted a government request to hold a vote on whether Sereno was “unlawfully holding and exercising the office of the Chief Justice,” which Duterte won by a vote of 8-6.
“Maria Lourdes Sereno is found disqualified from, and hereby adjudged guilty of unlawfully holding and exercising, the office of the chief justice,” said court spokesman Theodore Te, on announcing the decision.
Sereno now has ten days to appeal against potential sanctions over alleged violations such as “casting aspersions and ill-motive to the members of the Supreme Court.”
The decision immediately drew dismay from government opposition. The Akbayan party argued that the country was now “a heartbeat away” becoming a dictatorship.
“The Supreme Court’s decision to grant the quo warranto petition against the Chief Justice destroyed the constitutional process of impeachment and system of checks and balances,” said Akbayan spokesperson Gio Tingson. “The constitutional process of impeachment is now dead.”
“And with the ouster of our Chief Justice, this foundation of democracy—this shield against abuse of power in government—has crumbled,” Tingson continued. “After having a lapdog Congress and a seriously wounded Senate, we now have a puppet Supreme Court.”
The ruling appears to bring the Philippines closer to what the opposition and human rights groups claim is quickly becoming a dictatorship as Duterte continuing to crack down on opposition lawmakers, judges, and media.
He has previously described former military dictator Ferdinand Marcos as a “national hero,” and even clashed with Sereno on allowing his body to be moved to the National Heroes’ Cemetery in Manila.
However, recent polling data has found that satisfaction with Duterte’s administration is the highest of any Filipino government since the 1980s, with an approval rating of around 70 percent, making him one of the most domestically popular leaders worldwide.