Philippine chief justice returns to office amid ouster moves

Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno returned to office after taking a wellness leave two months ago. (AP)
Updated 09 May 2018

Philippine chief justice returns to office amid ouster moves

MANILA, Philippines: The embattled Philippine chief justice returned to office Wednesday after taking two months of leave amid efforts by President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration to oust her from the Supreme Court.
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno “is determined to see this through to the bitter end. No backing out,” her spokesman Jojo Lacanilao said as Sereno returned to work in defiance of calls for her to step down.
Sereno is facing an impeachment bid in the House of Representatives, which is dominated by Duterte’s allies, but Solicitor-General Jose Calida has separately petitioned the Supreme Court to remove Sereno for allegedly failing to file statements of assets and liabilities in past years, a charge she denies.
Sereno has warned that the efforts by the Duterte administration to oust her are a threat to constitutional democracy. She said Calida’s petition, called a quo warranto, violates the country’s constitution, which stipulates that top officials, including her, can only be removed by impeachment.
Supreme Court justices may vote on the petition to remove Sereno as early as Friday in a special meeting of the 15-member tribunal.
Duterte has sought the removal of Sereno and a top anti-graft prosecutor, Conchita Carpio-Morales, accusing them of allowing themselves to be used to discredit his administration.
Sereno angered Duterte after she disagreed with his efforts to take action against some judges authorities linked to illegal drugs in 2016, saying the Supreme Court should be the one to take disciplinary actions against erring judges.
In recent speeches, Sereno has urged Filipinos to stand up to authoritarianism and threats to human rights under Duterte’s rule.
Duterte 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 last month. “I will see to it that after that, then I’ll request the Congress, ‘Go into the impeachment right away.’“
The House Justice committee voted in March that there was “probable cause” to impeach Sereno based on 27 alleged acts, which a lawyer claimed amounted to “culpable violations” of the constitution, corruption, breach of public trust and other serious crimes. Six of Sereno’s fellow justices testified against her in the hearings that started in September, exposing rifts in the high court.
Sereno has denied any wrongdoing. She said she was ready to defend herself in the Senate, which would become the impeachment court if the House votes to impeach her and send its complaints to the Senate.
International rights groups and local critics have accused Duterte of drifting toward authoritarianism after declaring martial law in the south amid a major attack by pro-Daesh group militants last year. He has overseen a drug war marked by thousands of killings of mostly poor suspects but denies condoning extrajudicial killings.


World’s biggest literature festival kicks off in Jaipur

Updated 24 January 2020

World’s biggest literature festival kicks off in Jaipur

  • Economist and Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee will attend the event

JAIPUR: The 13th edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) started on Thursday.

Known as the “greatest literary show on earth,” the five-day event brings to one venue more than 500 speakers of 15 Indian and 35 foreign languages, and over 30 nationalities.

Among the festival’s participants are Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners.

The event has been expanding, with over 400,000 people attending it last year and even more expected to show up this time.  The growing crowd has made the medieval Diggi Palace, which hosts it, look small, and organizers are planning to shift the event to a bigger venue next year.

Scottish historian and writer William Dalrymple, one of the organizers, said: “The first time we came to the Diggi Palace in 2007, 16 people turned up for the session of which 10 were Japanese tourists who walked out after 10 minutes, as they had come to the wrong place. Things have improved a little since then. We are now formally the largest literature festival in the world.”

Dalrymple, who has extensively written on medieval India and South Asia, has played a pivotal role in promoting the festival.

The other two organizers are its director, Sanjoy K. Roy, and writer Namita Gokhale, who along with Dalrymple made the JLF become one of the most sought-after events in India.

“Why has the literary festival taken off in this country in this extraordinary way? It goes back to the tradition of spoken literature, the celebration of literature orally through the spoken word has deep roots in this country,” Dalrymple said.

“So the idea that a literary festival is a foreign import is something that can’t be maintained. We’ve tapped into something very deep here. Literature is alive and is loved in India,” he said.

Inaugurating the festival’s 13th edition, celebrated British mathematician Marcus du Sautoy said: “Every number has its own particular character in the story of mathematics. For me it is 13; 13 is a prime number, an indivisible number, and the JLF is certainly a festival in its prime.”

The festival this year is taking place amid a raging debate about India’s new citizenship legislation and mass agitation on the issue of preserving the secular fabric of the nation.

Reflecting on the prevailing mood in the country, Roy, in his opening remarks, said: “We are now faced with a situation where we see a spread of the narrative of hatred. Literature is the one thing that can push back against it and so can be the arts. All of us have a responsibility to do so and this is not the time to be silent anymore.”

Gokhale said: “Ever since its inception 13 years ago, we at the Jaipur Literary Festival have tried to give a voice to our plural and multilingual culture. We live in a nation which is defined by its diversity, and it is our effort to present a range of perspectives, opinions, and points of view, which together build up a cross-section of current thinking.”

She added: “We seek mutual respect and understanding in our panels — it is important to us that these often conflicting ideas are respectfully presented and heard. We also resist predictable and self-important all-male panels, and try to ensure that the vital voices of women resonate through all aspects of our programming.”

One of the attractions of the event this year is the presence of Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee, who won the prize in economics last year.

There are also panel discussions on Kashmir, the Indian constitution and history.

The prevailing political situation in South Asia is also reflected by the absence of Pakistani. Before, popular Pakistani authors would attend the JLF, but delays in visa issuance and a hostile domestic environment forced the organizers to “desist from extending invitations.”