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Sereno: Unsolved drug killings erode public trust in criminal justice system

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Unsolved killings of drug suspects under the Duterte administration's war on illegal drugs contributed to the declining public trust in the country's criminal justice system, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said Wednesday.

Speaking before business executives in Makati City, Sereno lamented the drop in the Philippines' ranking in the World Justice Project's (WJP) 2016 Rule of Law Index that covers 113 countries and jurisdictions.

According to the WJP, the Philippines was in 60th place in 2014, improved to 51st in 2015 before the country nosedived to 70th place last year.

"Despite all of these positive gains and even greater potential gains, we have to face the reality of the daily accounts of unsolved killings, many of them committed brazenly, with the public warnings against drug pushing or addiction," Sereno said.

"It is not surprising therefore that the perception of the rule of law in our country has swung from marked improvement to a downgrade," she added.

Duterte campaign promise

President Rodrigo Duterte took power in June last year guided by a campaign promise to eliminate drugs and corruption.

His war on drugs, however, has attracted international criticism after claiming 7,000 lives so far.

Several quarters, particularly human rights groups, have since called for a stop to the killings and urged the government to hold perpetrators accountable, whether they be from the drug syndicates or from law enforcers themselves

Despite the negative feedback, a recent Pulse Asia survey showed most Filipinos are "appreciative" of how the Duterte dministration has handled the fight against criminality.

Rule of law index

Meanwhile, Sereno seemed to have vouched for WJP's rule of law index, describing it as the current benchmark for global perception studies on the administration of justice.

She said the index must be seen as an indicator of the "serious erosion of trust" in the criminal justice system.

Sereno then called on stakeholders in the criminal justice system, including the judiciary, police, National Bureau of Investigation and the National Prosecution Service, "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.

She also asked the public to "continue to believe in the rule of law."

"It is only when institutions faithfully comply with what the law requires can we experience long-term stability as a country, even beyond changes in administration," she said.

"At the same time, all the institutions involved in the administration of justice are duty-bound to proactively report to the people the improvements they are trying to carry out in their respective areas; share with the necessary partners all the problems whose solutions require the help of other institutions; mete out penalties for infractions when appropriate; and create a system of rewards for exemplary public service to foster an ever heightening experience of service."

Sereno added the rights of every citizen, including those in the business community, can only be ensured "if we have a judiciary that is truly independent and strong.”
“Any effort to weaken the judiciary is to weaken our country," she said.

It was Sereno's strongest statement on the government's bloody drug war so far, five months after she found herself in the crosshairs of Duterte.

Concerned over Duterte's revelation last August on the so-called "narco-judges," Sereno wrote the President a letter where she asked him to explain the basis for his allegation.

She also advised the judges not to surrender in the absence of an arrest warrant.

Sereno's position did not sit well with Duterte, who responded by raising the possibility of declaring martial law if the judiciary will get in the way of his ongoing war against illegal drugs.

The President even warned Sereno that he would order all officials and employees in the Executive department not to follow her should she trigger a constitutional crisis.

Duterte has since apologized for his remarks.

The SC, on the other hand, went ahead with its investigation on narco-judges that resulted last December in the clearing of three judges of involvement in the illegal drug trade due to lack of evidence. — RSJ/ALG/BAP, GMA News

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