Fear for democracy after top Philippine judge and government critic removed

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Sereno's colleagues at the Supreme Court ousted her by granting a quo warranto petition that questioned the validity of her appointment in 2012 - a first in Philippine history. The picture would be complete when one compares his case to that of N. Paul Vasanthakumar, retired Chief Justice of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, who was denied a judgeship to the Supreme Court.

Separately, Sereno is also facing an impeachment effort in the lower House of Representatives, a move which critics allege is part of a wider campaign by Duterte to destroy foes and create one-man rule.

In his concurring opinion explaining why he refused to inhibit from the case as demanded Sereno, Jardaleza said he gave full weight to his duty to sit in the case because of the "grave importance of this case, its far-reaching doctrinal value and its permanent implications to the Court as an institution and equal branch of Government call for no less than a decision made by a full court".

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte's top lawyer dismissed fresh insinuations that the Chief Executive had a hand in the historic ouster of Maria Lourdes Sereno as the chief magistrate of the Supreme Court.

"It is a sad day", said Jojo Lacanilao, Sereno's spokesperson, who suggested that she may appeal the decision, although most observers note that as Duterte's control tightents, the likelihood of a fair hearing is slim.

Sereno's position is vacant with immediate effect and the court has ordered the judicial and bar council to begin a new selection process, Te said.

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Lourdes Sereno did not play a factor in his decision to side with the majority 8-6 vote upholding the quo warranto petition.

Pangilinan, who heads the opposition Liberal Party, says "what the majority in the Supreme Court did was a mockery of the constitution".

"Let us set aside our differences because there is a greater and stronger enemy that we must all face", she told the cheering throng.

By having forced Sereno's ouster, however, Duterte has further isolated himself and has generated a potentially fatal political crisis.

Once an independent judge like Sereno is ousted, "there will be no more balance of power; Duterte will be a virtual dictator", Reyes said. Everyday, there is a growing list of victims of extrajudicial killings, abductions, illegal arrests, military looting and other human rights abuses under Duterte's Mindano martial law, his reign of military power across the country through his Oplan Kapayapaan war of suppression, and his "war of drug syndicates".

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