MANILA – What appears to be a word war between the country's most powerful officials was borne out of a misunderstanding, Presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo said Wednesday.
The heads of the judiciary and the nation's commander-in-chief is due to Chief Justice Sereno's "misunderstanding" of President Rodrigo Duterte's words when he revealed a list of personalities allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade, said Panelo.
"The president was not ordering the arrest or even requiring the surrender of these people [who appear to be involved in the drug trade]. What he said was for them to report," Panelo said, which he thinks Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno "misunderstood and misconstrued."
Panelo said Duterte was not forcing the arrest or surrender of judges allegedly involved in the drug trade but was merely asking them to come forward to defend themselves.
Panelo added Sereno did not appreciate the effect of the illegal drug trade on the country's peace and order, emphasizing that public safety is in danger.
He claimed Duterte had to act swiftly and take extraordinary measures, even if it will eventually lead to the declaration of martial law.
However, Panelo said, "I don't think the president will do that. He is reminding everyone of what the Constitution says."
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According to Panelo, while Duterte recognizes the balance of power between the Palace, Supreme Court and Congress, it was "premature" for the Chief Justice to remark on the president's actions.
"This involves crime, and the executive department enforces the law. The Supreme Court moves in only if a formal complaint is filed before it or before the courts. There is none as of this time," Panelo said.
In a message addressed to Malacanang Tuesday, the Supreme Court said it would treat Duterte's list as a complaint, and asked Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to file a complaint for an administrative case for four judges named there, out of seven originally included.
The Palace has been criticized for the inclusion of some who are already dead, have retired, or received disciplinary action. However, Panelo dismissed these remarks.
"I'm sorry, the intelligence reports say they were involved at one time or another. There was no error," he said.
While the Palace respects the balance of power between the three branches of government, Panelo said the Supreme Court should have written to the Palace to inquire about its actions instead of openly reprimanding it.
"You do not reprimand the president if you are a coequal branch. You can write the president and inquire," he said.
The Supreme Court cannot direct the executive to file complaints, either.
"It is not for the court to direct the executive to do something about that. The court should wait for a complaint to be filed in the fiscal's office," Panelo said.