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There’s The Rub

Gust of air

The search for the next chief justice, says Ralph Recto, is not a search for the next American Idol and should not be treated as such. “Let’s not bring in the cameras inside the Judicial and Bar Council. One televised impeachment drama should be enough for one year. We created the JBC to do the work that the more than 100 million Filipinos could not do. We should trust them to give us a shortlist of nominees that are worthy of becoming the next CJ.”

Juan Ponce Enrile says the same thing. A live coverage of the JBC deliberations will probably only show who speaks well. “He may speak good English but his mind may be a hollow block. If they want to know who really is the most intelligent, then give them a bar examination again.”

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I’d completely agree with these observations if we were living in a country like the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan. There, the notion of televising the selection of the next chief justice, which suggests bringing public opinion to bear on the proceedings, would be ludicrous. There, the jurists, and not the public, know what’s best for the courts and the legal health of the country. There, left to itself, the judicial process will set itself right.

The same thing cannot be said here. We’ve just come from an impeachment that has shown the exact opposite. Here, the notion of televising the selection of the next chief justice is not ludicrous, it is wise.

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Here, the jurists do not know better than the public what’s best for the courts and the country. Here, the judiciary is controlled by capricious men and women who invent their own rules for their own benefit. Can anything be more capricious than a Supreme Court whose final decisions have no finality? Here, the judiciary is an institution that defends turf by a perverse interpretation of the separation of powers, which only means, when you hear it being invoked with ferocious desperation or desperate ferocity, that the chief justice should be free to rule his private fiefdom as he pleases.

Here, left to itself, the judicial process won’t set itself, or the country, right. Left to itself, it will screw us.

No, law is far too important to leave to lawyers. Justice is far too important to leave to the lawyers.

By all means let public opinion obtrude into the proceedings. Corona’s impeachment itself showed that brings more good than harm.

At the very least the show of transparency should help push back some of the public’s cynicism about the law. The law is not held in very high regard here, it is looked upon with fear and distrust. For very good reason. This is a country that teems with laws and lawyers, yet all it has produced is too much lawlessness and too little justice. For most Filipinos, that is no accident, the one is the reason for the other. The law is nothing more than lokohan, or palusot. It exists to keep the rich and powerful rich and powerful. Lawyers are there to enforce the lokohan and palusot: to exercise their skills to find ways around, over, and underneath the law.

For most Filipinos, the secrecy with which the courts, especially the Supreme Court, operate, which is not unlike the way the churches, especially the Catholic one, operate, does not guarantee that the truth will reign, it guarantees corruption will riot. The more we are left in the dark, or allow ourselves to, trusting in the wisdom and high-mindedness of our public officials to do well by us, the more we become mushrooms, kept in the dark and fed s–t.

With a public perception like that, it helps to make the selection process open. It helps to allow the public to peer into what has hitherto been the dark corners of the legal corridor. It should lessen the alienation, it should lessen the distrust.

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At the very most, it should in fact make the selection process more intelligent. The Corona impeachment drove home yet another vital thing, which is that this country does not lack for jurists who know their law, it simply lacks for jurists who know their justice. It does not lack for jurists who have passed the bar exams—though Enrile might want to propose to his colleague, Miriam Santiago, to take it again in hopes of getting a better grade—it simply lacks for jurists who have passed the bar of decency. It does not lack for jurists who have practiced law in a lucrative manner, it simply lacks for jurists who have practiced law in the grand manner.

What we need is not just a chief justice who has committed his whereas—(s)es to memory, what we need is a chief justice who is committed to dispelling injustice and benightedness in this land. Or else we might as well have Serafin Cuevas as chief justice. Or else we might as well have Enrile as chief justice. Or else we might as well retain Renato Corona himself as chief justice. When what we really need is someone like Ka Pepe Diokno.

That brings us to the fact that, quite fortunately, we have another tradition in our legal history, though it is not the dominant one, of lawyers who have used their exceptional brilliance to do the exceptional thing, which is fight tyranny, which is fight oppression, which is fight injustice. The human rights lawyers, particularly during Marcos’ time were so, a wondrous sight to behold, the best and the brightest doing the purest and loftiest, at great cost to career, family, and life itself. That spirit is still there, however it has been reduced to a glowing ember over the years. It’s just a matter of glimpsing it again. It’s just a matter of fanning it.

Who knows? Maybe making the selection process for chief justice as open as possible, as transparent as possible, as public as possible, can do that. I do know one thing, which is that, at my own risk of mixing metaphors:

It will be a gust of fresh air in a stale room.

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