Manila (AFP) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday lawmakers must “fast-track” the impeachment of the nation’s top judge, further stacking the odds against her staying in office.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is one of several high-profile critics who have found themselves in legal trouble after battling with Duterte over his deadly anti-drug crackdown.
“I’m putting you (Sereno) on notice that I am now your enemy and you have to be out of the Supreme Court,” Duterte told reporters before flying to China for an economic forum.
“I held my temper before because she’s a woman. This time I’m asking the congressmen and the Speaker: ‘Do it now. Cut out the drama, or else I will do it for you’,” he added.
A committee in the legislature’s lower chamber the House of Representatives last month found “probable cause” to impeach Sereno, in a move which critics allege is part of wider efforts by Duterte to destroy foes and usher in one-man rule.
If lawmakers in the full House support the finding, Sereno would face a US-style impeachment trial in the Senate or upper house. Congress is currently in recess and is due to reconvene May 14.
The Supreme Court is set Tuesday to hear a separate petition to unseat Sereno from the country’s highest tribunal.
She has been accused of failing to pay about two million pesos ($40,000) in taxes as well as falsifying and tampering with court resolutions.
She is also alleged to have spent excessively on “opulent” hotels and a luxury official vehicle, as well as flying business or first class.
Until Monday Duterte had repeatedly denied having anything to do with the moves to sack Sereno.
He called on House Speaker and key ally Pantaleon Alvarez to “kindly fast-track the impeachment” of Sereno.
“If it calls for your forced removal I will do it,” Duterte said, referring to Sereno.
Duterte and Sereno first clashed in 2016 when she criticised his order that judges whom he linked to the illegal drugs trade turn themselves in as part of his crackdown.
Police say they have killed roughly 4,000 drug suspects who fought back during arrest since Duterte launched the war nearly two years ago. Rights groups allege the actual number is three times higher.
Other Duterte critics have also been ousted, punished or threatened including detained Senator Leila de Lima, the Commission on Human Rights, and an anti-corruption prosecutor who investigated allegations Duterte has hidden wealth.