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"Dear CJ Sereno"
By Gemma Cruz Araneta
Published January 23, 2017, 10:00 PM
Tomorrow, you are going to be our guest of honor and speaker at the monthly general assembly meeting of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP). For obvious reasons, you will be bombarded with a lot of questions, so I hope you will stay long enough for the Q&A portion.
Early on, as soon as you were appointed chief justice, you humbly admitted that the judiciary is fraught with corruption, that there are members “involved in wrong doings” but that the Supreme Court definitely does not condone such actions. On the 115th anniversary of the Supreme Court, you affirmed that corruption still persists not only among judges, but also in the lower echelons—the sheriffs, stenographers, administrators, and whoever else may be involved with the judicial system. You assured Pres. R. Duterte of your support for his battle against corruption.
“We are aware that corruption is an obstacle to development,” you declared, “It is a complex problem which has to be confronted.” In fact, since youwere appointed chief justice in 2012, by Pres. Benigno Aquino III, the Supreme Court has already dismissed 12 judges and suspended 13, including a Sandiganbayan justice, fined 88, reprimanded 18, admonished 31, while 3 forfeited their benefits.The Supreme Court disbarred 31 lawyers and suspended 194 from the practice of law. I have read reports that your unyielding efforts to combat corruption have taken their toll, so you have asked the Philippine National Police to train judges how to handle guns and issue them permits to bring firearms.
If memory serves, during the TOFIL awarding ceremonies in 2014 you expounded on the state of our judicial system. There are only 2,000 courts nationwide that serve a population of a hundred million; clearly the Philippines justice sector is gravely undermanned, if you compare that ratio to the developed countries’. Your most formidable challenge is to improve the access to justice. There are many stumbling blocks, you said, for example, the high cost of transportation to the court room, prohibitive fees of private lawyers coupled with the dearth of paralegals for the poorest sectors of society, the disproportion between an increasing population and the availability of legal assistance. You emphasized that to hasten the pace of accessibility, the Judiciary needs to work in coordination with the Chief Executive through the Department of Justice because legal aid is the concern of the public attorney’s office, which is also terribly undermanned. You appealed to law schools and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines to provide interns who can offer legal aid services. Have they heeded your call, CJ Sereno?
I hope you won’t mind, but I will ask you about the re-imposition of the death penalty and Pres. R. Duterte’s menacing comments about martial law. You may decline to publicly talk about the death penalty as I read somewhere that you would rather wait until it becomes a law. Perhaps I should ask about Senator Pacquiao’s revelation that the Bible allows the death penalty, as evident in the case of Jesus Christ.
Apparently, President Duterte was riled about your letter regarding the judges in his narco list because you pointed out some errors; he said the Supreme Court should not meddle in his war against drugs and if it does, he could very well impose martial law. Too ladylike to pick a fight, you very calmly said the Supreme Court needs to have a good relationship with the Executive Department no matter who is the president. However, you very quietly but firmly stressed that the judiciary must maintain its independence. Your exact words were: “It’s a bright red line you must not cross. I hope the people will support the judiciary’s bid for independence…. It is important for members of the judiciary, particularly the judges, to keep their ‘dignified silence.’”
I heard you are improving the Court’s process review systems; I expect that you will give us an update tomorrow. This is the first time a Chief justice introduces the Key Performance Indicator (KPI) and you have set a target of 300 cases for every trial court; woe to the judges who have the bad habit of sitting on 2,000 or more cases. Access to justice is has always been your primary advocacy and you believe that technology is key to accomplishing your ultimate objective. Remarkably, there was no resistance to the KPI even from judges aged 50 and above. What were the results of the pilot tests in Quezon City and in Tacloban after super-typhoon Yolanda?
Last year, during a television interview by Mr. Howie Severino, you said that Apolinario Mabini is one of the intellectuals you admire because he had “juristic philosophy” and tried to build a system of legal thought for the First Philippine Republic. Unfortunately, he was eased out of Aguinaldo’s cabinet and died before he was 50. You said we should pay more attention to Mabini. How reassuring that the “Brains of the Revolution” is one of your heroes. See you tomorrow, your Honor.
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