Let's see those SC SALNs and ITRs
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2012-08-28
The recent appointment of then Associate Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno as the new Chief Justice (CJ) of the Supreme Court (SC) was the culmination of the most exciting selection process in the entire history of the High Court. No doubt the interest and the excitement were generated by the impeachment of former CJ Renato Corona, which created the vacancy for the CJ post.

Filipinos are normally ‘detached’ from their Chief Justices and that’s not surprising because the President, from a shortlist submitted by the JBC (Judicial and Bar Council), appoints the SC Chief Justice. People empathize with the public officials they elect and Justices of the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court are all presidential appointees. The controversies emanating from CJ Corona’s midnight appointment by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) stirred public interest in the SC and the CJ.

CJ Corona’s impeachment trial was a Philippine first. No other CJ had been subjected to the impeachment process. The recklessness during the climate of impunity of the GMA regime produced the conflict in the SC. The first SC Chief Justice to be ever impeached was subsequently followed by another historic event — the appointment of our first female Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

President Noynoy Aquino (P-Noy) was generally hailed for appointing Sereno. Apprehensions as to how P-Noy would select the next CJ fall into three categories:

1. Fear of an attempt to control the judiciary.

2. Fear of an attempt to reverse the SC decision against Hacienda Luisita, the large agriculture estate owned by the president’s family.

3. Fear of more turmoil in the SC and the judiciary if P-Noy chooses an outsider.

Among those who were opposed to appointing an outsider, Sereno was acceptable. Among those who wanted to see widespread reforms in the judiciary, Sereno was largely perceived as the candidate who fits the bill. The choice of Sereno was largely seen as consistency on the part of P-Noy to pave DAANG MATUWID (straight path, symbolizing clean, good governance).

The biggest issue that was being used against P-Noy with regards the SC was that he was out to control the judiciary. When the House of Representatives impeached Corona last December, this was the immediate reason that he cited as to why P-Noy wanted to oust him. The premise being established by those using this issue was that P-Noy might try to recover Hacienda Luisita, which suffered from an adverse SC decision during the Corona period. This issue lost steam with the appointment of Sereno because Sereno has proven her independence and in fact voted fairly in the Hacienda Luisita case.

That P-Noy was allegedly out to control the judiciary didn’t sell. It’s a hard sell, especially from distrusted Leftists and remnants of the unlamented GMA regime, to paint a picture of a self-seeking, power-hungry P-Noy. Like his mother Cory, P-Noy is not affected by power and has not been known to pander to his ego. More importantly — Filipinos know this and admire him for it. For all the 26 months that he has been president, P-Noy remains untainted by scandal. Attempting to sell the ‘control of the judiciary’ bit would have been as impossible as selling the idea that Mother Theresa was a serial killer. When you consider the person, the issue would simply not stick.

A few clamored for an appointment that would recognize seniority among the current Associate Justices of the SC. This was a very weak issue simply because hardly anyone among those considered as senior to Sereno could cast a reformist aura. Between mere traditions that hardly benefited the people, versus the promise of reform — it’s much easier to push for a reformer as CJ. Judging from the responses to Sereno’s appointment, Filipinos see that reforms in the judiciary can be expected from her tenure. After people are convinced that Sereno would be a reformer, the 18 years she will serve becomes another attraction, not a damper.

CJ Sereno has a lot of goodwill accompanying her in her new job. However, she also has to manage a lot of expectations — something that P-Noy was saddled with when he assumed the presidency. The perennial corruption allegations, the snail pace of court trials, the inconsistencies of court decisions (a big issue of foreign investors), the arbitrary and highly questionable issuances of TROs (Temporary Restraining Order), and the lack of transparency in the SC reminiscent of the Mafia Omerta — these cannot be solved overnight as if by a magic wand.

There’s something though that CJ Sereno could do to make an immediate impact and to transmit loud and clear the message that reform has finally dawned on the judiciary. That’s to revoke the previous guidelines for releasing the SALNs (Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth) and ITRs (Income Tax Returns) of key officers of the judiciary.

Sereno should reciprocate the clamor for reform that made her the first female CJ by immediately releasing the SALNs and ITRs of all key officers of the judiciary, starting with her and the other SC Associate Justices.

Releasing those SALNs and ITRs could be CJ Sereno’s first big step as reformer.

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

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Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

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