MANILA — The Philippines’ highest court on Friday forced out its chief justice, removing a fierce critic of President Rodrigo Duterte and his brutal war against drugs that has left thousands dead.
Voting 8-6, the Supreme Court justices removed Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, approving a petition filed by the government’s lawyer that questioned the validity of her appointment on the grounds she had failed to fully disclose her wealth.
Ms. Serano has been a constant irritant to the increasingly autocratic rule of Mr. Duterte, questioning the validity of his list of public officials who he deemed drug suspects and opposing his declaration of martial law in the sourthern Philippines.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, a supporter of Ms Serano, said the court had surrendered its judicial independence and integrity by removing the chief justice.
”This is a black day for justice and the rule of law,” Ms. Hontiveros said, accusing the Mr. Duterte of “subverting” the Constitution. “The Supreme Court has fallen, and fallen hard in the eyes of the public.”
Thousands of supporters gathered on the streets to protest what they called a “blatant ploy” by Mr. Duterte to wrest power from the judiciary and undermine the independence of the courts.
Ms. Sereno’s removal is “a fascist raid of the judiciary, the last straw that would consolidate the Duterte regime’s control over all the branches of government,” said Aaron Pedrosa, leader of the political coalition called Sanlakas.
He said Mr. Duterte “glaringly contrived” with his peers in Congress and the judiciary to remove a formidable critic who could keep the government in check.
Others warned of more dire consequences of the court’s action.
“We are now a heartbeat away from the death of our democracy,” said Gio Tingson, a spokesman for the left-leaning group Akbayan, who also joined the protest march.
He said the decision “destroyed the constitutional process of impeachment and system of checks and balances.”
The decision came ahead of a planned impeachment vote against Ms. Sereno by the Duterte-controlled 292-member House of Representatives, which was expected to impeach the chief justice on a slew of corruption allegations that she has denied.
Ms. Sereno becomes the first chief justice to be removed through a vote of her peers. In 2012, the late Chief Justice Renato Corona was impeached by lawmakers on similar corruption charges.
The first female head of the judiciary, Ms. Sereno, 57, had publicly questioned the legality of Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs, which rights groups have said killed