Latin America

Sereno wary of justices ‘courtesy calls’ on Duterte

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Sereno wary of justices ‘courtesy calls’ on Duterte

LeAnne Jazul

'It's a bright red line you must not cross,' Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno says of the separation of government branches

MANILA, Philippines – Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Thursday, August 25, stressed the need to keep courts independent as justices paid courtesy calls on President Rodrigo Duterte.

Videos from state-run RTVM show that Court of Appeals justices paid Duterte a courtesy call in Malacañang on August 23, while justices of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan’s 4th division did the same in Davao City on August 4.

Sereno was asked on Wednesday if these courtesy calls would affect the separation of branches in government.

“I hope not,” the Chief Justice replied.

Sereno said: “I had already articulated before when I was being interviewed for the position of Chief Justice, that not only must we do things correctly. We must be perceived as giving no occasion for people to doubt our independence and our integrity, so that even my socialization with those who are potential litigants and who are actual litigants have been strictly circumscribed by the need to always project independence and integrity.”

Bright red line

She continued: “That is the call I consistently make to everyone in the judiciary. I hope that the public does not develop the idea that it was a breach of that line. For me, it’s a bright red line you must not cross.”

The Sandiganbayan justices who paid Duterte a courtesy call have been identified as Jose Hernandez, Alex Quiroz, Samuel Martires, and Geraldine Faith Econg.

Their division is handling the graft cases filed against former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in relation to the aborted NBN-ZTE broadband deal. 

Only last July, the High Court acquitted Arroyo of plunder as it granted her plea to drop the criminal case against her. The Court annulled the criminal case for “insufficiency of evidence” and ordered her “immediate release.”

While cautioning against the breach of that “bright red line,” Sereno stressed the need to “to have a continuing healthy relationship with the executive department.”

“Even assuming that the judiciary is able to implement all its reform programs, if the evidence is weak, if the investigation is not professionalized, then our people might still have a reason to be concerned about the delivery of justice,” Sereno said. – 



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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior multimedia reporter covering religion for Rappler. He also teaches journalism at the University of Santo Tomas. For story ideas or feedback, email