Weighing CJ Lucas P. Bersamin
Readers ask: Why did the President choose the third most senior justice, instead of the most senior or the second most senior, as the new CJ? What special qualifications did he see in him?
Frankly, I do not know. CJ Lucas P. Bersamin himself said he didn’t know either. But the fact is: The Constitution gives the President wide discretion to choose from the nominees of the Judicial and Bar Council.
Instead of second-guessing the President, I think we should rather give the new CJ the chance to perform his tasks and to weigh him when he retires 10 months from now, on Oct. 18, 2019. The CJ’s tasks were discussed in three of the 10 books I wrote while I was a sitting jurist.
To summarize, the CJ is the primus inter pares (first among equals) who presides over the Court’s en banc sessions, controls its proceedings, shapes its agenda, summarizes the deliberations and sets the pace of its work. Nonetheless, he has only one vote. Thus, he relies on moral ascendancy and persuasion, not on boss-subordinate relation, to sway the Court.
The CJ is not just the primus of the highest court. He is also the chief executive officer of the entire judiciary. He is the leader who inspires, motivates and moves his subordinates to work unceasingly, to rise above their puny limitations, to excel beyond themselves and to achieve their loftiest dreams and highest aspirations. That is why he is more accurately addressed as the “Chief Justice of the Philippines,” not just “Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.”
While the jurist in him requires the CJ to follow tradition, to uphold precedents and stabilize judicial thought, the leader in him impels him to innovate, to re-engineer and to invent new and better ways of moving the judiciary forward.
Because the judiciary must cope with the fast-changing judicial, social, economic and technological environment, the CJ must have a passion for reforms to assure speedy and equal justice for all.
This function requires interaction with other offices, both public and private, and even with foreign governments and international bodies. How to interact with officials and citizens — some of whom may have pending cases — without arousing public suspicion is a sensitive balancing act. To do this, the CJ — more than anyone — must rely on the deep public trust in his integrity and independence.
Because the practice of law is supervised by the Supreme Court, lawyers look up to the CJ for guidance in their profession. This is why all bar associations listen to the CJ, especially a new one, for direction and inspiration.
As chair of the Judicial and Bar Council, the CJ is expected to find new and better ways of searching for, screening and selecting applicants for judgeships. This job is critical. Quality judgments begin with quality judges.
This imperative impels the CJ to move into nonjudicial endeavors, like working for better compensation, better security and better facilities for judges. Only by securing these basic needs will the JBC be able to entice the best and the brightest to join the judiciary.
As chair of the Philippine Judicial Academy, the CJ is viewed as a guru who is expected to make the continuing education of judges a passion and vocation.
The Constitution vests in the Court “administrative supervision over all courts and the personnel thereof,” as well as the appointment of its officials and employees. This means that the CJ must be a visionary administrator, efficient manager and sensible finance wizard all at the same time. Several laws — like the Administrative Code and the General Appropriations Act — place on the CJ the duty of steering the entire Judicial Branch. The Judiciary Development Fund (JDF) Law (PD 1949) and the Special Allowance for the Judiciary (SAJ) Law (RA 9227) gives the CJ the “exclusive sole power” to disburse the JDF and SAJ funds.
Our people look up to the CJ as an exemplar and role model. Because of our inquisitive media and open society, every public official is subjected to minute scrutiny. Thus, the CJ must withstand such scrutiny. At bottom, in their search for heroes, our people look up to the CJ as the model of an upright public servant.
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