Battling Corruption, Incompetence and Delay; the Limitations on the Freedom of the Judiciary in Financial Matters Make Its Judicial Autonomy Vulnerable to Political Interference. While It Recognizes the Need to Operate within the Overall Resources of the National Gov't, the Preservation of Its Independence Is a Major Factor in the Integrity of Its Decision-Making function.(Opinion &Amp; Editorial)
(Address delivered by Supreme Court Justice ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN as guest of honor of the American Chamber of Commerce on August 21, 2002.)
I THANK Rob Sears, my friend of long standing, for inviting me to speak before this elite group representing American business in our country. During the past several weeks, the judiciary in general has been on the news front, not just because of the many crucial decisions it has issued, but also because of several criticisms of how it has allegedly arrived at those judgments.
Without much ado and without going into personalities and specific litigations, let me start by saying that the Supreme Court has long realized the existence of the many problems in the judiciary and, more important, has embarked on a comprehensive reform program to address them.
I, for one, have written three books over the last three years and delivered several speeches recognizing the serious problems we face and explaining the reforms we are undertaking to resolve such problems. At this forum today, let me therefore give you a brief discussion of the Supreme Court's five-year "Action Program for Judicial Reform" (APJR), which was begun in 2001 and is expected to be fully implemented by 2006.
Three main problems
In my opinion, there are three main problems that beset our judiciary; these are corruption, incompetence and delay - the "CID" of our judicial system.
Corruption remains the single most persistent problem that erodes public confidence in the courts. During the political summit of national and regional parties and party-list groups held at the Manila Hotel on May 3-5, 2002, there was a common sad perception that there were two types of law - one for the rich and one for the poor. There were those who believed that, for the right price, some judges would deliberately misinterpret the law and some lawyers would employ every trick in the book to ensure a favorable outcome for litigants who were able and willing to pay.
But corruption does not take the form of only direct bribery. It can be clothed in many guises - the many varieties of witchcraft, indecent proposals and bedeviling temptations brought about by the three "ships" that plague public service: friendship, relationship and kinship.
The second problem, incompetence in the judiciary, can be seen in reports of some lawyers and judges whose poor command of language make their pleadings and decisions not only ungrammatical but also incomprehensible; and in accounts of some jurists whose knowledge of elementary law, or the lack of it, appalls even high school graduates.
Delay in the delivery of justice is many times the result of antiquated legal procedures, the continuous increase in the volume of new cases being filed every year, the large number of vacant judgeships all over the country, and the abuse and misuse of even the best crafted rules by litigants and lawyers who endeavor to win their cases by confusing, outwitting or bankrupting their opponents.
Discipline in the ranks
The drive to stamp out corruption, address the issue of incompetence and resolve the problem of delay in the delivery of justice necessitates the strict enforcement of the Canons of Judicial Ethics. Thus, to restore public trust and confidence in the judiciary, the Court has actually taken unprecedented steps to discipline and penalize members of the judiciary who have fallen short of the exacting standards demanded by their oaths of office.
For the first time in its 100-year history, the Supreme Court censured one of its own members, recently dismissed from the service a Court of Appeals justice, and suspended the presiding magistrate of the Sandiganbayan from his administrative functions. During the last three years, from January 1, 1999 to April 9, 2002, the High Tribunal has penalized about 350 erring judges of the lower courts with dismissals, suspensions, fines and reprimands or admonitions for various administrative offenses, especially the CID plagues. …