TIMES EDITORIAL: TOUGH TASK FOR SERENO

MANILA, AUGUST 27, 2012 (MANILA TIMES) With tongue-in-cheek humor, feminists like to say, “Never send a man to do a woman’s job.”

Over the weekend, President Benigno Aquino 3rd appointed the youngest—she’s 52—Associate Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno as the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (SC). Sereno is the first female chief justice of the high tribunal.

Sereno replaces the impeached Renato Corona as head of the Philippine judiciary, thereby making her one of the three most powerful officials in the land.

Her historic appointment puts her at par with the mother of the incumbent president. The late president Cory Aquino was the country’s first female chief executive. In breaking a glass barrier, the beloved Mrs. Aquino paved the way for the country’s second female president a decade after she stepped down.

Now, it is only the post of Senate president which has yet to be held by a woman.

Sereno will be chief justice for a good 18 years, unless she is impeached, resigns, or is forced to exit for health reasons.

There is no doubt that the SC was badly damaged as an institution with the removal of Corona. One of the tough tasks facing Sereno is to return the high tribunal to the high level of respect that it had with the people prior to the Corona impeachment.

It will not be easy.

For the longest time, the SC had been immune from partisan politics. By and large, SC justices were perceived with the utmost respect. They were after all, the best and the brightest legal minds of the country, at least in theory.

While no one ever questioned the fact that associate and chief justices were still human, and therefore prone to human error and misjudgment, the SC as an institution was always considered strong.

Another tough task Sereno faces is the perception that she will be beholden to President Aquino. Whether she likes it or not, this cannot be helped. She was, after all, the first associate justice to be appointed by the incumbent, and being picked chief justice over several more experienced justices gives the impression that there was favoritism in the President’s choice.

This impression can only be erased over the coming months and years, when her decisions and that of the court that she leads sends the message that this SC is completely independent.

Then there is the matter of the huge backlog facing the country’s judicial system.

As Senator Edgardo Angara recently pointed out, there is a need for the judiciary to implement mandatory arbitration to resolve disputes quickly and unclog the courts.

There are literally thousands of cases which have remained pending over the years, or even decades. The country’s slow pace of justice has become legend, and is one reason that the poor in particular have lost their faith in the system.

Along with this is the perception that the country has a separate justice system—one for the rich, and another for the poor. It is not farfetched to say that the Philippine communist movement remains alive because of that slow pace of justice, and because the poor cannot expect real justice when they are up against the rich. For this reason, whether rightly or wrongly, the New People’s Army is still seen as the court of last resort.

When the justice system fails the poor, they can still turn to the oldest communist insurgency in the world for succor.

Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno must hit the ground running. Small steps will not be enough to return the faith of the people on the SC.

On the plus side, her relative youth can be a major asset for the new CJ. She should have the capacity to work harder than the typical judges or justices who are senior citizens with health issues. Being in her early 50s like President Aquino, CJ Sereno could well be at the peak of her game.

We therefore join the entire Filipino nation in wishing the best to the new chief magistrate. May she live up to our high expectations.

On Republic Act 9285 As Senator Angara stated very recently, there is now a desperate need to unclog the judiciary.

Republic Act 9285 was enacted as far back as 2004. This law made it the country’s policy to encourage the use of alternative dispute resolution to achieve speedy and impartial justice.

Veteran lawmaker Angara suggests that instead of promoting alternative dispute resolution, the judiciary should make it compulsory.

This makes perfect sense. How ridiculous does it get when an aggrieved party wins a case long after he or she has passed away? There have also been numerous cases when a candidate wins the most number of votes in an election yet is not able to serve his or her term because the loser is declared winner. Like countless civil and criminal cases, electoral protests are not settled in time, thus depriving a constituency of rightful representation.

Yet such a scenario has happened again and again, ad nauseum.

At the very least, the judiciary should give the suggested solution a try.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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