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Chief Justice Sereno: Philippine SC, Trailblazer in Environment Protection

January 30, 2015

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno said that the Philippine Judiciary blazed the trail in protecting the environment not just in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region but worldwide during the 6th ASEAN Leaderspeak Forum at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) in Makati on January 28, 2015.

In her keynote address, Chief Justice Sereno discussed how the Supreme Court can propel effective and balanced leadership through its various efforts of reform and innovation in forwarding the judiciary’s vital role in the ASEAN. Chief Justice Sereno and nine other ASEAN Chief Justices previously met in Singapore and Malaysia. A third meeting will be held this year in Boracay, where the leaders “hope to make more progress to judicial cooperation in the region.”

“Our judiciary has been a trailblazer in the protection of the environment by the courts not just in the ASEAN region but worldwide,” said Chief Justice Sereno citing in particular the introduction of the doctrine of intergenerational responsibility, the rules on procedure for environmental cases, and the writ of kalikasan.

Chief Justice Sereno revealed that she is challenged to look for ways and means to implement the vision set out for the Philippine judiciary. She said: “I have to do a delicate balancing act between several interests: ensuring transparency while protecting the institution, ensuring accountability while encouraging people’s morale, assuring job security while upgrading performance standards.” She added: “[I]f we in the judiciary cannot put our own house in order and create a stable legal environment for business, how can we invite and attract “guests” in the form of foreign direct investors? And in keeping with the Latin maxim nemo dat quod non habet, no one gives what he does not have, how can we be a source of judicial best practices to be emulated by our ASEAN neighbours?”

To better explain the efforts of the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice introduced the four pillars of her judicial reform agenda – 1) Institutionalized integrity and restored public credibility, 2) ensuring the predictability, rationality, speed and responsiveness of judicial actions, 3) improved systems, processes and infrastructures, and 4) effective and efficient human resources.

Chief Justice said that restoring public belief in the Filipino judge is the priority in this pillar. She named as an example the creation of a pool of future judges, “this can be done by looking at how the selection and education of students in law schools can identify the best talents who will be open to the vocation of judgeship; creating this pool includes gearing programs in the Philippine Judicial Academy and possibly in law schools for the selection and preparation of the best candidates for the judiciary. This pool can also choose from among practitioners and government lawyers who have led distinguished lives and careers and who can choose to enrich the rank of the judiciary with their presence.”

For the second pillar, Chief Justice Sereno cited docket decongestion programs not just for cases, but also with parallel jail decongestion programs for the release of detention prisoners who have already served their maximum penalties while waiting to be tried or for other just causes, to be jointly undertaken with the Department of Justice, and Department of Interior and Local Government.

 Chief Justice Sereno also talked about the creation of electronic courts and maximizing the use of information technology to expedite the service of notices and processes, calendaring of hearings, notification of parties, filing, archiving and conferencing. These fall under the third pillar.

Lastly, she discussed the fourth pillar which focuses on the organizational development plan to define the terms of reference of many personnel in the judiciary, create an effective system of rewards and punishment, conduct training and come up with a standardized and manualized operating procedure in order to produce efficient delivery of justice.

“Keeping in mind that the dispensation of justice in this country is not the responsibility of the judiciary alone but also that of the law enforcement, prosecution, corrections, and community pillars of our criminal justice system, our reform efforts must also be in tandem with theirs to bear fruit,” she emphasized. She cited the problem of the lack of prosecutors and courts where they are most needed. She stressed, however, that it is purely a function of Congress to create courts and allocate funding for those already created to build efficient courthouses.

Chief Justice Sereno ended with a strong personal statement on leadership, “Leadership to me, is being accountable, for the kind of life that I lead in public and in private. If I cannot maintain internal consistency, by being a “just” human being, if I harbor malice and ill-will, and if my call for integrity is not authentic, then I am not leading, I am only deceiving. To be a leader is to be willing to examine one’s self and to be examined by others.  Whether, to the best of my human capacity, I am faithful, whether the motive for reform is unadulterated, whether the vision is being constantly carried and whether as leader, I continue to authentically speak of and live the noble human values that can elevate the judicial community to the heights that it has set its eyes on. Ultimately, it is a matter of the heart and will. A good leader must ensure that in her heart of hearts, there is always this constant striving for perfection and excellence, in the context of the service she has chosen.”

Also in attendance were retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Leonardo Quisumbing and his daughter, former Commission on Human Rights Commissioner (CHR) Cecilia Rachel Quisumbing. During the question and answer, former CHR Commissioner Quisumbing and a student from AIM –who was also a Police Captain, commended the Chief Justice for starting her keynote with a moment of silence in honor of the fallen Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force policemen killed and injured on January 25, 2015 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. (Tiffany Ines C. Atendido; Photo credit: Francisco S. Gutierrez III)