THE continuing spate of extrajudicial killings said to be linked to the Duterte administration's war on drugs erode the public's trust in the judiciary, said Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

During her speech at the 68th Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) Inaugural meeting, Sereno urged the public to keep faith in the country's judicial system.

"If you believe that the judiciary's leadership is sincere, what I will ask of you in turn is to continue to believe in the rule of law," Sereno said.

The Chief Justice's request came after she disclosed that the Philippines' rank in the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index has gone down from 61 to 70.

The survey, which provides original, impartial data on how the rule of law is experienced in everyday life in 113 countries around the globe, stated that the biggest decliner in South East Asia was the Philippines, dropping nine positions to 70th.

Sereno said despite reforms in the judiciary–including the establishment of 200 drug courts, the increase in case disposition, and the massive infrastructure projects–the judiciary must face the accounts of summary killings which started to balloon when President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office.

"Despite all of these positive gains, we have to face the reality of the daily accounts of unsolved killings. Many of them committed brazenly against drug pushers. It is not surprising therefore that the perception of the rule of law in our country has swam," Sereno said.

Sereno said in deciding the priorities in the judicial reform, the government must look into the index as it is an indicator of trust.

"In deciding the priorities in the judicial reform, it must take the index as an indicator of serious erosion of trust in the criminal justice system," she said.

'Do not confuse our roles'

During her speech before the businessmen at the Manila Peninsula Hotel, Sereno also appealed to the public to not confuse their roles with the rest of the criminal justice sector.

Explaining the criminal justice system, Sereno stressed that it is not the job of the judiciary to investigate and build evidence.

"I ask you to help the judiciary to defend its reforms by not confusing our role with those of the rest in the criminal justice sector. It is the role of the police to investigate and to build evidence, that of the prosecutor to prosecute and win the case on behalf of the state. The role of the judge is to be fair on both accused and the state by rendering judgment only on the basis of the evidence," Sereno said.

The Chief Justice also appealed to the public to understand the delay on the resolution of the cases, adding that one of the reasons for the delay and dismissal of cases is the non-appearance of police witnesses and prosecutors.

"I also ask you, before you accuse a judge of undue delay, remember that many times the judge has to postpone the case when the prosecutor or the policeman is absent," she said.

"While we have started to be strict with the postponements requested by the prosecutors, we cannot give them leeway. Considering that there are so few prosecutors in relation to the number of courts and the number of pending criminal cases," Sereno added.

Sereno also urged the government pillars of criminal justice, the judiciary, the Department of Justice and its attached agencies including the National Prosecution Service and the National Bureau of Investigation, to come together to ponder on what kinds changes they still need to bring about justice.

In the end, Sereno said the rights of the citizens would be protected if the judicial system is independent and strong.

"We can only ensure protection of the rights of every citizens including those in the business community if we have a judiciary that is truly independent and strong.

"Any effort to weaken the judiciary is to weaken our country," Sereno added. (SunStar Philippines)