The Philippine Supreme Court ousted its chief justice, a critic of the country's authoritarian president, in an unprecedented vote Friday by fellow magistrates that she and hundreds of protesters called unconstitutional and a threat to democracy. Court spokesman Theodore Te said eight of 14 justices voted to grant a petition by the government's solicitor-general to remove Maria Lourdes Sereno from the 15-member tribunal for allegedly failing to file statements of assets and liabilities as required by law. Sereno denies the allegation and refused to participate in the vote, the AP reports. Sereno has earned the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte by speaking up for the respect of law and human rights at a time he has led a brutal crackdown on illegal drugs that has left thousands of suspects dead.
About 1,800 protesters gathered to support Sereno outside the court in Manila. Sereno is facing a separate impeachment bid in the House of Representatives, which is dominated by Duterte's allies. She has warned that the efforts by the Duterte administration to oust her are a threat to democracy, saying the petition that led to Friday's vote violates the constitution, which stipulates that top officials like her can only be removed by impeachment. "This is more than a wake-up call. If we don't wake up now, it will really be the death of democracy and sometimes history is cruel," priest and protest leader Robert Reyes said outside the court, warning that Duturte "will be a virtual dictator" if checks and balances like Sereno are removed.