Former Philippine chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno in Manila, in the Philippines, yesterday. Picture: AP
MANILA, Philippines: The Philippine Supreme Court upheld the expulsion of its chief justice, the authoritarian president’s highest-ranking critic, in a final ruling yesterday that critics warned is unconstitutional and threatens judicial independence and the country’s democracy.

Justices voted 8-6 to uphold their May 11 decision to oust Maria Lourdes Sereno from the 15-member high court and deny her appeal, said court spokesperson Theodore Te.

The government’s solicitor- general had asked the court to boot out Sereno for allegedly failing to file some of her past assets disclosures, an act he said damaged her integrity - a charge she denies.

President Rodrigo Duterte has 90 days to appoint a replacement.

Sereno blasted the government petition that led to her removal as “an abominable perversion of the rules of court” and a “total violation of the constitution”.

It “has made our courts and the entire public service, constantly vulnerable to political intimidation, and unable to properly dispense their duties professionally and without fear”, she said at a state university.

Duterte’s allies said the ruling should be respected, but opponents deplored it, with one opposition group, Tindig Pilipinas, labelling the tribunal a “supremely erroneous court” and threatening to file impeachment complaints against the justices, who approved the government petition.

“Our constitution mandates the Supreme Court to be the final arbiter of legal and constitutional questions. Let us respect its decision, no matter what our persuasions are,” said Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez of the House of Representatives, which is dominated by Duterte’s allies.

Sereno’s expulsion cut short a separate congressional impeachment attempt against her.

She argues that the government petition violates the constitution because it stipulates that justices like her can be removed only by congressional impeachment.

Alvarez said the court ruling had “rendered moot and academic” the impeachment proceedings, which now had to be consigned to the archives. More than half of the 23-member Senate, however, including some Duterte allies, have asked the Supreme Court to review its decision, calling the ruling a “dangerous precedent” that infringed on the constitutional power of Congress to impeach senior officials.

The 57-year-old former law professor angered Duterte after she disagreed with his efforts to take action against judges linked to illegal drugs in 2016, saying the Supreme Court should be the one to punish erring judges.

Duterte, who is sensitive to criticisms, has said he had avoided getting involved in efforts to remove Sereno but got fed up.

“So I’m putting you on notice that I am now your enemy. And you have to be out of the Supreme Court,” Duterte said in a speech in April.

The House Justice Committee said in March that there was probable cause to impeach Sereno, accusing her of corruption, breach of public trust and other crimes.

Sereno has denied any wrongdoing, but Duterte and his officials maintained that she breached the law and should not have been designated chief justice by Duterte’s predecessor in 2012. - AP