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Filipino legal groups protest judge’s removal, urge legislative backing

MANILA, Philippines — Legal groups called on Philippine legislators Tuesday to defend their constitutional power to impeach officials that they said was usurped by Supreme Court justices who ousted the chief judge last week.

Wearing black arm bands, leaders of legal and rights groups staged a protest in front of the heavily guarded Supreme Court in Manila, carrying a streamer that read, “We dissent, resist authoritarianism, oppose attacks on judicial independence.” A protester held up the scales of justice, with a mock sword piercing her white gown.

The protesters said the judges’ 8-6 vote Friday to remove Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno from the 15-member court violated the country’s constitution. They said it robbed the Senate and House of Representatives of their constitutional power to prosecute top officials like Sereno.

Sereno was ousted over allegations that she failed to file statements of assets and liabilities. She has denied any wrongdoing, but President Rodrigo Duterte and his officials have argued that she breached the law before becoming a Supreme Court judge and should not have been designated chief justice by Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, in 2012.

Sereno drew the ire of Duterte by speaking up for respect of law as he led a crackdown on illegal drugs that has left thousands of suspects dead.

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