MALACAÑANG on Wednesday downplayed as “rhetorical” President Rodrigo Duterte’s threat to declare Martial Law, as Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno refused to be drawn into a word war with the Chief Executive.
Duterte on Tuesday lashed out at Sereno for questioning his shame campaign against “narco-officials” after the Chief Justice demanded that warrants of arrest be issued first before judges linked by the President to illegal drugs surrender to authorities.
“The President merely asked a rhetorical question and said it under the context that his anti-drug campaign cannot wait for the slow wheels of justice,” Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said in a statement.
Sereno, who raised her concerns over the shame campaign in a letter to Duterte on Monday, responded through a tweet on the Supreme Court Public Information Office’s Twitter account.
“Many things have been said, the Chief Justice sees no need to add to what are being said,” Sereno said.
The Supreme Court has named former associate justice Roberto Abad to investigate four lower court judges listed by the President as protectors of drug traders, but required Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to produce complaint-affidavits in seven days.
In Cagayan de Oro City on Tuesday, Duterte went into an outburst and said Sereno should not order him what to do. “Would you rather I declare martial law?” he asked.
Duterte, who vowed during his presidential campaign to rid the country of illegal drugs in six months, repeated his arguments against Sereno in Zamboanga City on Wednesday.
The President, a former prosecutor, said it would be impossible to secure warrants of arrest against 600,000 drug offenders nationwide because of the snail-paced justice system.
“Sereno, in the past, when chief justices spoke, everyone listened. Now you say there can be no surrender without a warrant of arrest,” he said.
“There are three instances or four without [the need for a]warrant of arrest—one, when one is committing crime in the presence of law enforcers,” he explained.
But the Palace insisted that Duterte will observe the constitutional separation of powers, and that he “believes in the rule of law” and “advocates for judicial independence.”
“When the President referred the named judges on his consolidated list to the Supreme Court, he was acknowledging the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court over the judges. He recognizes the separation of powers, and even asked the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court not to create a constitutional crisis,” Andanar said.