The SC can never be the same again
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2012-05-22
This day is a historic moment. The first impeached Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice (CJ), Renato C. Corona, will testify this afternoon before the Senate tribunal.

From what we Filipinos saw during the proceedings, it’s safe to say that the SC will need to undertake extensive reforms to win back its credibility and the public trust. The SC has the option to reform itself or risk being subjected to more impeachments of its other justices, other than a possible second CJ impeachment.

The SC cannot expect to be regarded henceforth as the unquestionable final arbiter in the land — not after what has been discussed in the trial, media and coffee shops. The CJ’s impeachment trial has enlightened Filipinos on the otherwise little known ‘dark side’ of our third branch of government. For instance, it is only now that many Filipinos realized that SC Justices are not as open with their assets and liabilities as the members of the executive and legislative.

The SC has been brought down from its once lofty perch and is now forced to be as sensitive to public opinion as the executive and legislative branches of government. The aura of the SC as the “Final Arbiter” and the “High Court” has been severely clouded. The sight of the CJ on the witness stand opens the SC to more public scrutiny from hereon.

Filipinos will henceforth expect more transparency in the SC. In the Information Age, it’s suicidal for the SC to persist in maintaining the status quo. The SC will only invite worse expressions of public indignation when the next crisis surfaces. Lack of transparency in the SC will only fuel public belief in the many damning rumors that are circulated by parties with selfish interests or parties who were victimized by purchased judgments.

All three branches of government are answerable to the people. The bottom-line is — the SC is accountable to the people through their elected public officials in Congress. The political handicap of the SC is that the people do not directly select or support them. Voters neither recommend nor select the choices for SC Associate Justices and Chief Justice. It’s the JBC (Judicial Bar Council) that recommends and the president that appoints. That isolates the SC from the people. To bridge that isolation, the SC should embark on reforms that redeem public trust. Transparency is the first big step.

Offhand, the following reforms come to mind:  

SALN made public

That 1992 SC ruling on SALN must be revoked to make the SC abreast with the demands of today’s political reality — particularly the mandate for full transparency. It would improve the image of the SC from the mauling it suffered in this impeachment trial to initiate a new ruling that will make available to all and sundry the SALNs (Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Net worth) of all SC Associate Justices, key officials and that of the CJ — without having to seek a SC approval. Every Filipino should be able to enter any branch or agency of government to check on their public servants. Open access to their SALNs would be the SC Justices way of making that “We have nothing to hide” statement.

Curb MR abuse

Those with cases in the SC decry the system of allowing unlimited filing of motions for reconsiderations (MRs). There are those who claim that MRs open the door for corruption, an opportunity to buy a “sympathetic” judgment. Once the SC makes a decision, the losing party should be allowed only one MR.

Speedier trials

Many indicted and victimized Filipinos suffer from justice delayed. How many times has it happened that prisoners decide to plead guilty because they’ve already served the jail time for the crime they’re being tried?

Cases in the Regional Trial Courts (RTC) have been compared to a famous line in the Nat King Cole 1950s hit song Mona Lisa, the line that says — they just lie there and they die there. “They just lie there and they die there” refers to cases in the Regional Trial Courts that have been dragging. If our laws need review in order to remove the unusual number of hearing postponements, then the SC should issue stricter guidelines on how to properly expedite these.

It’s also unacceptable when subsequent hearings take a month or more to calendar. The SC must impress upon the lower courts that every day that an innocent person remains behind bars for a crime that person didn’t commit is a condemnation of the court system in our country. If the judges are overloaded — the often-cited excuse — then the SC must find ways to create more courts and hire more judges.

Whether CJ Renato Corona is found guilty and removed from office, or if he manages to get acquitted — the SC must grab this golden opportunity to reform itself. For sure, the SC can never be the same again. For the SC, it is reform now or risk undergoing the more severe expressions of public indignation.

Shakespeare: “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”

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