Judicialization, Its Challenges; (Speech Delivered at the Gathering of University of the East (UE) Alumni Who Are Members of or Working in the Court of Appeals, Sandiganbayan, National Labor Relations Commission, Regional and Metropolitan Trial Courts, and in the Active Practice of Law on 31 Jan., 2008.)

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Byline: Supreme Court Justice DANTE O. TINGA

TONIGHT, we pay homage to our beloved alma mater and to all its alumni who have been charged with the awesome responsibility consequent to the judicial or quasi-judicial powers attached to their positions in government. Nearly five years ago, I was blessed with a much coveted appointment to the Supreme Court. No doubt, sooner or later, there will be more graduates of the UE College of Law who will be vested with the highest honor a lawyer can aspire for, a seat in the highest court.

In my years on the bench, I have to become not only a more avid student of law than before but also a dutiful exponent of judicial adjudication. My stint is a most fascinating experience that has elicited insights I have not expected. I wish to share with you one of those insights tonight.

It is hardly surprising for all of us when the Supreme Court makes it in the news headlines. More often than not, the Supreme Court makes the news not because it has promulgated a landmark decision. In fact, many of the important decisions of the Court are not reported on. If reported at all, they are confined to a summary of facts -- the who-whatwhen-where and how, without any meaningful analysis of what the decisions actually signify. But that is a topic for another speech perhaps.

What I am referring to are the instances where ample media coverage is given to parties who file, are about to file, or plan to file a petition with the Supreme Court. One will see the TV news crew waiting by the docket and receiving section at the front gate of the Court. No doubt alerted by the parties themselves. The petitioner arrives with the 21 duplicate copies of the petition in hand. The petition is filed under the glare of the kleig lights. We see such moments played out in the evening news. Surely it must come to mind, no matter the legal question or issue at play, that the Supreme Court inevitably has to settle the controversy. After all, it is the final arbiter.

One might presume that the Justices of the Court must certainly be flattered by all that attention. Yet that would mostly be a false impression. In truth, perhaps to varying degrees, we are inhibited by a sense of modesty, constitutional modesty if not personal, as well as a becoming inclination of deferment to the other branches. To cite the other extreme, a former American Chief Justice at the time he was newly ensconced in the High Court reportedly astonished his colleagues, who earlier demurred in ruling more broadly than what the Chief had wanted, by telling them, "We are the Supreme Court. We can do whatever we want." Thankfully, none of my colleagues, past or present, have evoked the same attitude, not at least within the hallowed chambers of the Court.

Yet there may be sincere belief on the part of some segments that the Supreme Court can do whatever it wants. That belief may be dominant among losing litigants and their lawyers who may prefer so omnipotent a Supreme Court that could rule in their favor even if the law is against them. But among such segments also are people with bona fide motives, people who may have been genuinely wronged, people who so mistrust the other institutions of State yet are ready to trust the Court as the last best hope.

This overreliance on the Supreme Court, or overestimation of its role in our society and politics, should be a point of grave concern and serious discussion. It, sadly, is an indication not only of a flaw in the perception of what the Court's institutional role is, but also a sign of the lack of trust in the two other branches of government. The emerging phenomenon is termed judicialization. Roughly summarized, judicialization occurs when shifts in the balance of power between law and politics favor judicial institutions over representative and accountable institutions. The ascendancy of legal institutions, particularly the judiciary but also more broadly "the medium of legal discourse," is an inevitable and obvious consequence of judicialization. …