Sereno vows ‘judicial bliss’ with 18 years in officeBy Tarra Quismundo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
If the new Chief Justice realizes her plans, the Philippines may experience “judicial bliss.”
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno vowed to make the most of her 18 years in the post, hoping to institute lasting reforms in the judicial system to restore public faith in the judiciary and provide the country a solid bedrock for national development.
Speaking before business leaders, diplomats, former justices and officials in separate events on Thursday, Sereno said she would institute “systematic” reforms to address “systemic” problems in the justice system, acknowledging that it is currently plagued by case congestion and administrative and integrity issues.
The 52-year-old Chief Justice, the first woman to ascend to the post, also assured the public that she was committed to raising the judiciary from blight in the wake of the trial of her ousted predecessor, Renato Corona.
Corona was removed from his post after the Senate impeachment court found him guilty of failing to declare his assets as required by law.
Best in bureaucracy
President Aquino’s appointment of Sereno earlier this month, a choice that brings “generational change” to the Supreme Court as she is “the most junior associate justice” to become chief, said former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban.
She is expected to serve until she turns 70, giving her 18 years in her post.
“The goal is when I retire in 2030, I will be leaving a judiciary that is professional, that is the best in the bureaucracy that has systems that are world-class, according to the best accreditation standards, that people believe in,” Sereno said.
“Those of you who are in the activity of creating prosperity of our nation can rely upon a stable system,” she added, especially addressing business and economic leaders.
She gave the message before former Chief Justices Panganiban and Hilario Davide, former President Fidel Ramos, incumbent and former justices, Cabinet members, senators and top business leaders at the launch of a professorial law lecture series by Metrobank Foundation, and Foundation of Liberty and Prosperity on Tuesday night in Makati City.
Broken down system
Sereno spoke along the same lines earlier in her keynote address at the 2nd Integrity Summit, a daylong discussion on government and private sector initiatives to promote good governance and dignified business practices held at the InterContinental Hotel, also in Makati.
Sereno noted the judiciary’s “broken down system of accountability.”
“This results in a weak institution that cannot deliver service well. We basically have a system that can be corrupted,” she said at the integrity summit.
An economist, Sereno assured businessmen of reforms that would promote “predictability, rationality, speed and responsivenees of judicial actions”—a system of special value to the business sector.
“A judiciary that remains steadfast in upholding the rule of law for 18 years can help ensure a stable economy and a more prosperous future,” she said.
Consistent with law
This can be done by ensuring that all court decisions are consistent with the letter of the law, not based on “who is the ‘ponente’ and what the composition of the court is,” said the Chief Justice.
“There is a window of opportunity to really create the stable and long-lasting foundations for economic development based on the rule of law,” Sereno said.
“The business community will no longer [have] a big question mark on the probable outcomes in a case, assuming that the lawyers helping them analyze risk parameters [perform their jobs promptly],” she added.
Music to businessmen
Such promise is “music to the ears” of the business community, said Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, because an investor “always dreams, desires an environment where there is rationality, stability and predictability of policies.”
Abad, who was in the audience when Sereno spoke at the Metrobank event, noted the inconsistent judicial policies “in the immediate past.”
“I mean if you have an opportunity to lead for 18 years, that gives you a lot of time to plan out what you want to do. In a sense, if she does well, then we’ll have 18 years of judicial bliss,” he told the Inquirer.
Decisions based on merits
Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Teresita Herbosa, who was also at the Metrobank event, said the judicial environment that Sereno was aspiring for would make the country’s businessmen feel “more comfortable.”
“That only means one thing: Decisions will be based on the merits. This way you can predict. And if you have a good lawyer, he will tell you, if it’s based on the merits, you will win… That’s something that you could plan for and would make business plans more stable,” Herbosa said.
To achieve this, the Chief Justice intends to gather an expert group of consultants to establish a system that would prevent conflicts in decisions and guide the judiciary toward delivering timely judgment “to correct and stabilize jurisprudence.”
“It is a system of creating red flags, avoiding inconsistencies … That way, we will make the rules even more fair and predictable,” Sereno said
Among other reforms Sereno plans to undertake are professionalizing court workers through better preparation in university and training on the job; delegating non-adjudicatory/administrative functions from judges to better-qualified management professionals; decentralizing court administration through the creation of regional court administration offices; creating an internal affairs office to monitor officials and employees; and pushing for greater digitization of processes and records.
Focusing on developing topnotch human resources for the judiciary, Sereno said: “We’d like to see that those who join the judiciary are not there for the money, but they enter the judiciary because they want to be part of a noble calling and want to serve in the competence that God has given them.”