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With Due Respect

Women power at SC rites

Finally and at last, the highest court of the land will own its home in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City. Since its founding 114 years ago on June 11, 1901, the Supreme Court has not owned its headquarters. For too long, it has been “squatting” on the land and buildings of the University of the Philippines on Padre Faura, Manila.

Remembered in history. Though the actual construction will be undertaken and hopefully finished during the term of his successor, President Aquino, together with Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., will be remembered in history for providing the resources for the high court’s new complex.

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Beaming with noticeable pride, P-Noy graced the ceremonial contract-signing and groundbreaking ceremony for the new Supreme Court complex last Oct. 2. All the incumbent justices were present, except those abroad on official mission, like Justice Antonio T. Carpio and those indisposed like Justice Arturo D. Brion.

Representing the three appellate courts were their presiding justices, Andres B. Reyes Jr. (Court of Appeals), Amparo M. Cabotaje-Tang (Sandiganbayan) and Roman G. Del Rosario (Court of Tax Appeals). The trial courts were represented by Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez.

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But only the three lady members—Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno, Justice Teresita J. Leonardo-de Castro and Justice Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe—delivered speeches on behalf of the Court, showing that though outnumbered, they are never outgunned. Even the Court’s signatory in the contract-signing was a lady—clerk of court Felipa B. Anama. Women Power at work!

The male justices just sat on the stage, content in silently witnessing the proceedings. And so did I.

De Castro delivered the welcome remarks while Bernabe detailed the architectural plan and engineering design of the “modern, green and disaster-resilient” Supreme Court complex.

Presidential laments. Taking advantage of his captive audience, the President bragged that, during his term, the judiciary’s budget was more than doubled from P12.66 billion in 2010 when he took office to P25.89 billion in 2016 when he will leave.

(By the way, another lady, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, introduced the President, and still another, Mayor Lani Cayetano, welcomed the jurists to her city of Taguig. Indeed, all the speakers, except for P-Noy, were eloquent and elegant ladies.)

However, the President, speaking in his characteristic mixture of English and Filipino, did not mince words in reminding the justices: “What our bosses expect from us public servants is simple: Instead of just tiis (being patient), let’s promote genuine justice. That’s why I will take this opportunity to raise some issues with you.”

Some serious issues he did raise, zeroing on delays and on the constitutional command that “[a]ll cases or matters filed… must be decided or resolved within twenty-four months from the date of submission for the Supreme Court… twelve months for all lower collegiate courts, and three months for all other lower courts.”

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He was particularly distressed at the unusually long litigations involving infrastructure projects, pointing to the refusal of trial courts to immediately issue writs of possession, even after the government had filed the appropriate expropriation proceedings, resulting in delays in the construction of many toll ways, the Naia expressway in particular.

“The complex that will be built will be modern and of high quality, with new equipment. But for me the most important part of it is the people who will work there… It’s still up to you if you will uphold what is right and just,” the President emphasized. He also attacked some decisions for allegedly being “judicial legislation.”

Judicial reform program. In her speech preceding the President’s, Chief Justice Sereno highlighted five new “innovative” projects to address delays: (1) the e-Subpoena system which uses e-mail to compel policemen to attend hearings especially in drug-related cases, citing the cooperation of Secretary De Lima and former interior secretary Mar Roxas; (2) the “Enterprise Information System… which will allow the judiciary to use technology and automation to make its processes not only faster but also more efficient, transparent and predictable;” (3) the “decongestion project called Hustisyeah… which was able to reduce dockets in 119 target courts as of [Oct. 1] by 31.44 percent;” (4) “another project called Assisting Court System… with a result of 47.32 percent reduction of dockets [in target courts] in just five months;” and (5) “the establishment of… 48 Family Courts,” apart from the Regional Trial Courts that have been designated as family courts.

Hearing her address, I thought that these five projects are really parts of the more extensive “Four Pillars of Judicial Reform” that the Supreme Court is currently undertaking.

The “Four Pillars” are not known by the public. I will write about them in the future but quickly, the first is on instituting integrity, public trust and credibility; the second is on ensuring predictability, rationality, speed and responsiveness of judicial actions; the third is on improving systems infrastructure; and the fourth is on efficient and effective human resources.

Only 55, Chief Justice Sereno has 15 more years to steer the judiciary and to finish the Supreme Court complex. In fact, she will have more time than the next two presidents to permanently reform our judicial system.

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TAGS: Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Felipa Anama, Lourdes Sereno, Supreme Court, Teresita Leonardo de Castro
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