MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno wrote a letter to President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, August 8, expressing concern over his list of judges, local government officials, policemen, and soldiers allegedly involved in drugs.
Supreme Court (SC) spokesperson Theodore Te said Sereno's letter was personally received by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Monday morning.
A copy of the letter was later released to media in the afternoon.
Sereno, one by one, listed down the 7 judges that Duterte mentioned on Sunday, August 7, in a speech at Camp Panacan in Davao City. The Chief Justice listed the judges' full names – Duterte had revealed only surnames for most – and also stated their current status.
Below is what Sereno wrote about the 7 judges:
Sereno noted that "it would be helpful to know the specifics on how judges without jurisdiction over drugs cases influence the drug trade in their localities."
She added: "The Court would consider it important to know the source and basis of any allegation that specific judges are involved in the illegal drugs trade in line with its duty to exercise administrative supervision over all lower courts."
The Chief Justice expressed concern that judges might become targets of vigilante groups, because of the President's "premature public announcement."
"Our judges may have been rendered vulnerable and veritable targets for any of those persons and groups who may consider judges as acceptable collateral damage in the 'war on drugs,'" Sereno said.
She urged the President to give the SC "even an informal report" instead of making public announcements. The High Court, Sereno asserted, has sole jurisdiction over members of the judiciary and must be the one informed if there are erring judges.
"As the sole entity charged with the discipline of judges, the Supreme Court decides when judges are excused from bench duty and report to it," the Chief Justice said. (READ: Sereno's pledge to Duterte, Robredo: Even hand, watchful eye)
Sereno also disclosed that the SC is currently investigating a report on a judge allegedly linked to drugs, but he is not on Duterte's list.
Sereno letter to Duterte by Rappler Philippines on Scribd
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, however, said in a text message to reporters that he disagrees with Sereno's view that Duterte's announcement was premature.
"The announcement is to the judges' advantage as it will give them the opportunity to clear their names through the media rather than when cases are formally filed against them which will give them a short time to file their counter-affidavits, and preclude from discussing their defense in public because it will become subjudice," Panelo said.
Duterte earlier said he would take responsibility for the list, adding it had been revalidated. (READ: The Duterte list: Judges, mayors, police officials linked to drugs)
A careful check, however, revealed that information has not been sufficiently verified, as in the case of the late Judge Navidad.