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“Any effort to weaken the Judiciary is to weaken our country. We can only ensure protection of the rights of every citizen, including those in the business community, if we have a Judiciary that is truly independent and strong.”
These were the strongly-worded statements of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno as she called out to the business community to continue supporting the Judiciary in its “relentless” judicial reform initiatives.
Speaking during the 68th Management Association of the Philippines (M.A.P.) Inaugural Meeting and Induction of Officers at the Peninsula Manila in Makati City, Chief Justice Sereno underscored the importance of upholding the Rule of Law, saying that “to support the Judiciary is to support not only our democracy but also to engender an environment conducive to economic growth.”
Chief Justice Sereno lamented that that the perception of Rule of Law in the country has waned within only a few years. She said that the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index is currently the benchmark for global perception based studies on the rule of justice. She shared that “our country jumped, nine places in 2015, from its rank of 60 in 2014 to 51, partly, as I may humbly say, as a result of judicial reform initiatives. For the year 2016, however, our rank has gone down to 70.”
“Despite all of these positive gains and even greater potential gains we have to face the reality of the daily accounts of unsolved killings, many of them committed brazenly, with public warnings against drug pushing or addiction. It is not surprising therefore that the perception of the rule of law in our country has swung from marked improvement to a downgrade,” she stressed. “While the Philippine Judiciary takes its cue from the Constitution, laws and jurisprudential notions of independence and justice, and thus will confine the Index to an input on deciding its priorities in judicial reform, it must take the index as an indicator of the serious erosion of trust in the criminal justice system, in the civil justice system and in regulatory agencies.
Chief Justice Sereno rallied all branches of government and the independent constitutional bodies to reflect on how they have been discharging their roles in a way that has brought about this state of affairs. She stressed that the government pillars of justice system –the judiciary, the Department of Justice and its attached agencies, including the National Prosecution Service, the National Bureau of Investigation, and the Philippine National Police – “must come together to ponder on what kinds of genuine changes are required to bring about real justice.”
“If you believe that the Judiciary’s leadership is sincere, what I will ask of you in turn is to continue to believe in the rule of law. It is only when institutions faithfully comply with what the law requires can we experience long-term stability as a country, even beyond changes in administration. At the same time, all the institutions involved in the administration of justice are duty-bound to proactively report to the people the improvements they are trying to carry out in their respective areas; share with the necessary partners all the problems whose solutions require the help of other institutions; mete out penalties for infractions when appropriate; and create a system of rewards for exemplary public service to foster an ever-heightening experience of service. This is the only trajectory that we should pursue as a people. We cannot digress from this path that our collective history and the Constitution have marked out for us. Only by taking this path can we remain safely intact as a people,” Chief Justice Sereno said.
Chief Justice Sereno asked the business community to help defend judicial reforms “by not confusing [the Judiciary’s] role with those of the rest in the criminal justice sector.” She reminded them that it “is the role of the police to investigate and build evidence; that of the prosecutor to prosecute and win the case on behalf of the state; and the role of the judge is to be fair to both accused and the state by rendering judgment only on the basis of the evidence. If the evidence is weak, the judge has no choice but to acquit the accused and must not be blamed.”
The Chief Justice appealed to them to be circumspect before accusing a judge of undue delay. She reminded them to remember also that many times the judge cannot help but postpone a case if the prosecutor or policeman is absent. She, however, admitted that “while [the Judiciary has] started to be strict with the postponements requested by the prosecutors, [it] cannot but give them leeway considering that there are so few prosecutors in relation to the number of courts and the number of pending criminal cases.”
Likewise, the Chief Justice encouraged the business people to “demand a more ethical, straightforward, and excellent performance” from their lawyers, even saying that “[t]he Court is watching.”###