Subject Supreme Court justices to performance audit before they retire
Allow me to react to the column of retired chief justice Artemio Panganiban (“Solving the SC’s heavy caseload,” 8/23/20) that informed the nation that as of December 2016, the backlog of unresolved cases in the Supreme Court numbered close to 14,500 (per Gio-Samar v. DOTC, 2019), with each justice assigned to take care of almost 1,000 cases.
One of them is our family’s case, which is now in its 11th year there without any resolution in sight. Our father had already passed away due to old age. Anyway, given the herculean task involved—said to be “mission (almost) impossible”—one cannot help but wonder why that job is still to die for.
In our own pedestrian view, it is simply because, for most lawyers and lower court judges/justices, it is the best place to spend their last years before retirement (at age 70). The pay is tremendous (in millions of pesos per annum) and the retirement benefits even better (amounting to tens of millions)—regardless of the amount of work they have done or left undone. Quite a number of them retire after having put in only minimal work in that court, leaving tons of unfinished business to their successors without being subject to sanctions of any kind whatsoever.
What other explanation could there be why so many cases more than 10 years old in that court (like ours) just get routinely passed on to and “inherited” by newly appointed justices who must start from square one to study those cases all over again? Then they themselves retire soon thereafter without having done much about those cases, leaving them to get passed on again to the justices who come in next through the high court’s revolving door, and so on and so forth.
The Supreme Court keeps amending the rules supposedly to expedite the disposition of cases; but no matter how fast the cases below may move, the mantra “justice delayed, justice denied” will keep resonating in the people’s minds if the highest court of the land itself remains as excruciatingly sluggish as it has always been. To reverse the public perception of it being so indifferent to the miseries of people with cases there hibernating for what seems like an eternity, something has got to give.
President Duterte, in the exercise of his “extraordinary” power and influence as chief executive and “overlord” of the entire government—now obviously with a tremendous hold on the Supreme Court—should put an end to this travesty. For starters, he can have retiring justices audited and, if found grossly delinquent in the performance of their duties, meted out some penalty in the form of substantial reductions from, or perhaps forfeiture of, their retirement benefits. The Supreme Court itself has been doing that to retiring lower court magistrates. But being “supreme,” no such sanctions are ever applied to anyone of their own. It is time to really hit them where it hurts the most — and only Mr. Duterte can make that happen, if only he would start acting like the “statesman” he often said he never signed up or ran for.
Scarlet S. Sytangco
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