Majesty of the law

September 2, 2014 at 10:03

DEMAND AND SUPPLY By Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 1, 2014 – 12:00am

The law, I remember my brother-in-law, retired UP Professor Carmelo V. Sison explaining to me, is what makes us a civilized society. I was still in high school at that time when Carmelo was still courting my now late older sister (the valedictorian of her UP Law class herself and among the bar topnotchers that year) and we had a lot of time talking about all sorts of things over the dinner table.

The other thing I remember Carmelo, who eventually taught Constitutional Law to generations of UP Law students, saying is how the Supreme Court gets its power from the sheer respect citizens have for its wisdom and the majesty of the law.

The Supreme Court does not have an army, nor a police force, Carmelo explained, and is completely dependent on the executive branch for the execution of its decisions. It is totally dependent on Congress for its budget. It is shameful it is dependent on US AID for budget to fund reforms.

The idea of a Supreme Court that is the weakest of the three branches of government stuck to my mind. Moral ascendancy and the majesty of the law were all it had to ensure our society remains civilized… ruled by a government of laws and not of men.

I was assigned to cover the justice/courts beat in my early days in journalism which entailed being exposed to how our system of justice works. Watching how justice is dispensed eroded whatever idealized view I entertained about the majesty of the law. I saw first hand how the Philippine judicial system is indeed, the best that money can buy.

There was a time when I thought the Supreme Court was able to keep the institution above the corruption below. But the quality of appointments to the high court deteriorated over time. Gone are days when a SC justice remains aloof to everyday social life, becoming a virtual hermit, doing his best to dispel any suspicion that his integrity is less than pure.

Horror of horrors… I witnessed a SC Chief Justice cutting the inaugural ribbon of a Mrs Fields cookie shop at mega mall. Justices routinely play golf with high priced practicing lawyers in expensive golf courses. Lawyers routinely talk of how to win cases and it is not by sheer strength of a legal position.

To say that our judicial system needs a thorough cleansing is to state the obvious. But it had become so corrupted it is difficult to see how anyone can start to clean it up.

The judicial system became even weaker because it lost the moral high ground… it lost the respect of right thinking people in society. It was a rubber stamp to the ambition of a dictator. It succumbed to the manipulations of a president who used basic human greed to make it compliant to her wishes.

One important accomplishment of P-Noy is the effort to create an independent Supreme Court. The impeachment of the midnight appointed Chief Justice is the initial step. More important are the appointments he made for associate justices and chief justice.

P-Noy now wants to throw all that by declaring war with the Supreme Court and seeking to reduce its powers. Did P-Noy get more than he bargained for when he appointed such independent minded justices such as the current Chief Justice and his former chief negotiator with the MILF, Marvic Leonen? It seems to be the case.

It is unfortunate that P-Noy has apparently misunderstood the meaning of independence. Of course the SC has a history of judicial over reach as in the Manila Hotel and petrochemical cases. But those were of many years ago and this current court should be allowed to show what it is made of.

The DAP decision may seem to be an abuse of the high court’s powers to P-Noy but a 13-0 decision implies it is P-Noy who must review his thinking.

I am glad SC CJ Sereno had that press conference last week. It was substantive, recognized the problems of cleaning out the judiciary, what they are doing and clearly laid out their plans and their needs in terms of budget and moral support.

Here are key points made by the CJ as reported by the tweets of the ABS-CBN News Channel:

Sereno on reform: If you start a reform program and you stop midway, there will be failure. We can’t afford to fail our people.

You have to see that it is in your best interests to support the judiciary. Ang hudikatura ay malakas kung naniniwala ang taong-bayan dito.

Sereno on executive and legislative branches of gov’t: I think it’s wrong for them to miss the lessons of the past.

Sereno on pace of reforms: The judiciary is a very large ship. Move it too much and it (could) keel over. I have to be careful.

Sereno on getting rid of corruption: The judiciary must show the ability to withstand this kind of pain. There is hope. I haven’t known any institution in history that has been able to do house cleaning without pain. It is always painful.

Sereno on judicial corruption: Corruption has always been alleged in the judiciary and some of those charges have been proven. I face facts as they come.

Sereno on cleaning up: Nakikita niyo naman po yung pagka-seryoso namin sa abot ng aming limitasyon. Nag-iimbestiga kami. Tulungan niyo kami. Kung meron kayong alam na korupsyon, wag kayong magpadala ng anonymous letter na walang ebidensiya.

Sereno on lifestyle check: Nandiyan na ang means. Ombudsman can conduct a more discreet investigation. Ano pang impormasyon ang kailangan?

Sereno on JDF: May COA audit yan, regular. Wala kaming tinatagong kababalaghan.

Sereno on budget: We don’t have support for judicial reform programs from GAA (nat’l budget). We get funding from USAID. Hopefully, we can persuade our development partners to give more money. We hope we can also persuade Congress to give us reform money.

Sereno on lack of funding: I don’t want to speculate on the reason, but the process of trying to convince them is a road we must take.

Sereno on role of SC: The Supreme Court can only be loyal to the Constitution. Judiciary can’t stray from boundaries set by Constitution, no matter how it affects other branches of government.

Sereno on ideal CJ: Somebody who does not add to the confusion, but rather one whose daily devotion to duty adds stability to the system. We attend to our duties, ensure cases move forward. We should be the most depoliticized.

We’re not able to (maximize) our ability to build (our) nation (because) we haven’t paid (enough) attention to Constitutional processes.

Sereno on slow pace of judicial system: We’re creating Task Force Katarungan & Kalayaan because we want to make sure detainees’ lives aren’t neglected. We’ve issued guidelines for decongesting jails, what can be done by the judge. Overcrowding in jails is 1:4 in some cities. Rotation system for sleeping on the floor is really the norm now. We have to target 175 courts in our country that are most heavily congested.

Sereno on court load: We (want) to bring it down to a level where judges can have a work-life balance. There are courts in our country which have 30 cases apiece. There are courts which have as many as 4,000 cases (each).

Sereno on e-court: If we have a pro-active approach to court litigation, this means we’re actively seeking the use of electronic platforms. If we can hit 100 courts (participating in continuous trial system) by next year, that’ll be a fundamental change of the landscape.

Sereno says there will be 25 volunteer courts which will conduct continuous trials. This will be launched in September. Sereno reports there are now 61 pilot e-courts. Additional courts are being rolled out right now.

The point of the electronic system is to remove human intermediation, (which is prone) to corruption. If we can have resources from national government, we can add (pilot e-courts). Problem is executive branch deleted our request for funding

Sereno on e-filing: We’re trying to usher in a period of e-filing. In the SC, you can already file pleadings through electronic means. We’re trying to minimize the carbon footprint that judicial processes impact on the planet.

That, in a nutshell, is how the CJ reported the state of our judicial system. This is the first time I can remember that such an accounting of the state of the judiciary was made in precise terms by the Chief Justice.

Much of what they are doing are behind the scenes but deserve all our support. This makes me feel that instead of attacking the SC because of one decision, P-Noy should accept it and go all out helping the CJ institutionalize judicial reforms.

After hearing Sereno, P-Noy sounds petty with his anti SC remarks. He should be the statesman instead, helping set the judicial system in the Daang Matuwid as well. That’s a big job and everyone’s help is required.



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