To The S.C.: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

This is one case the Supreme Court is going to lose.

I refer to its threat to sanction 37 UP Law faculty members for asking Assc. Justice Mariano del Castillo to resign for his supposed plagiarism in a decision involving Filipina “comfort women”.

It may be laudable for the Court to rally behind one of its members but it will not play well in the forum of public opinion. Look at what happened when the Church threatened to excommunicate P-Noy for distributing contraceptives. As with the Church, the Court will have to eat its words.

The people are fed up with institutions that believe themselves to be beyond criticism because of their supposed omnipotence and moral turpitude; particularly when, like the Church, the Judiciary is in the eyes of the public hardly a bastion of probity.

Also, just like the Church, the Judiciary is wanting at what it does. Its glacial speed in addressing the 606,000 backlog of  cases is witness to this.

So rather than let its slip show I suggest the Court back off on this one and move on, move on to issues that are more deserving of its intellect and standing, like judicial reform.

President Aquino has highlighted judicial reform as one of the priorities of his Administration. The problem is arguably the principal obstacle to our progress as a nation.

How President Aquino proposes to reform the Judiciary is another matter, a case of wishful thinking.

For, as an equal branch of Government, the Judiciary is not subject to supervision by either the Executive or Legislative branches. Unlike the latter two, it is also not accountable to the nation. Judges are appointed, not elected.

The only lever the Administration and the Legislature have on the Judiciary is in their control of its budget. This matter is currently under discussion with the Judiciary complaining  their budget for next year is only 60% of what they want.

The Judiciary is a self-policing body with the Supreme Court having the responsibility for ethics and performance among its ranks.

The bad news is, therefore, that we as a nation can only stand helpless if the Court decides that no reform is necessary. The good news is if the body does indeed undertake to improve itself, it can do so in fairly swift order.

Unlike the President and Congress who are subject to external political restraints, the Supreme Court could undertake serious reforms simply by command. In this sense, ironically, the body that constitutionally is tasked with protecting civil liberties, can administratively operate like a dictatorship. It is answerable only to itself.

Fifteen Supreme Court Justices sitting around a table could if they so desired undertake reforms that would greatly benefit the nation. By eradicating corruption in the system, unclogging the pipeline of unresolved cases, and dispensing speedy and fair justice, the Court would promote respect for the law among the citizenry and governance among public officials, render relief to the oppressed, and restore the trust of the people in this country’s institutions.

However, for the Court to do this it will have to dismantle the old boy network and courtesies that have protected erring judges from being censured by their peers.  The Court’s behavior with respect to the matter of Justice del Castillo is, many say, an example of the system at work.

There are structural reforms that also need be implemented.

One suggestion is to establish separate courts for Taxes and Small Claims similar to what exists in other countries. Another is to encourage arbitration.

The Court should examine how technology can improve administrative performance. Our judicial system should be brought to the 21st century.

A system of meritocracy should be implemented to encourage judges and court personnel to expedite proceedings. The rules of court should also be changed to prevent legal practitioners from unduly delaying resolutions.

Best practices can be adopted from other countries with similar legal systems. The private sector via the Integrated Bar should be consulted as part of the reform.

Chief Justice Corona has been vilified for accepting an appointment considered dubious by many. Here is an unprecedented occasion to prove that his designation is deserving. True judicial reform could be his legacy to the nation.

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About Leo Alejandrino

The blog is principally a commentary on Philippine politics and economics.
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One Response to To The S.C.: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

  1. Eduardo Cu Unjieng says:

    Excellent piece. Loaded with sound, practical yet revolutionary ideas.

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