Sereno: Extrajudicial killings a setback in judicial reforms

MANILA, Philippines – The unsolved killings linked to the government's war on drugs undermine efforts to reform the justice system, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said on Wednesday, January 25 in a speech before business leaders.

Speaking at the 68th Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) meeting, Sereno said that while there are improvements in the dispensation of justice in the Philippines, the cases of extrajudicial killings only weaken the perception of the rule of law in the country.

The Chief Justice noted that the Philippines placed 51st in the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index in 2015. The index is considered the benchmark for global perception-based studies on the administration of justice.

The Chief Justice said it was because of the intense efforts to crack down on corruption inside the courts, dismissing a Sandiganbayan justice and 16 trial court judges from service in the past 4 years.

However, the Philippine rankings in the index dropped from 51 to 70 for 2016, and Sereno is inclined to blame it on the increase of individuals dropping dead in the streets because of their alleged involvement in illegal drug operations.

"Despite all of these positive things and even greater potential gains, we have to face the reality of the daily accounts of unsolved killings, many of them committed brazenly with public warnings against drug pushing or addiction. It is not surprising, therefore, that the perception of the rule of law in our country has swung from marked improvement to a downgrade," Sereno said.

All branches of government, she said, must be alarmed by our drop in the justice index because it shows a "serious erosion of trust in the criminal justice system, in the civil justice system and in regulatory agencies."

She urged government bodies, including the Philippine National Police (PNP), to "reflect on how they have been discharging their roles in a way that has brought about this state of affairs.

"[We] must come together to ponder on what kinds of genuine changes are required to bring about real justice. On the part of the judiciary, I can assure you that the effort to reform has been relentless," Sereno said.

Sereno said that upholding the rule of law is also crucial to obtain long-term stability in the country.

As of January 25, 2017, there have been over 7,000 deaths, both from legitimate police operations and vigilante-style or unexplained killings. (READ: IN NUMBERS: The Philippines' 'war on drugs' – Rappler.com