Chief Justice of the Philippines

IN times of turmoil and crisis, our people have learned to depend on the Supreme Court for direction and salvation. Normally, they should really look to their elected leaders, the president and the members of Congress. Ironically however, the abusive and illegal acts complained of by our people come mainly from executive officials. Under these circumstances, our people inevitably turn to the chief justice to lead the Supreme Court in protecting their rights. What are the CJ’s functions?

1. Primus inter pares. Among the 15 members of our Supreme Court, the CJ is the primus inter pares (first among equals) who presides over its sessions, controls the flow of its proceedings, shapes its agenda, summarizes the discussions and influences the direction and pace of the Court’s work. Nonetheless, the CJ has only one vote. Thus, the CJ relies on moral ascendancy and persuasive skill, not on a boss-subordinate relationship, to sway the Court.

2. Leader of the entire judiciary. The CJ is not just the primus in the highest court. He is also the chief executive officer (or CEO) of the entire judiciary composed of 2,000 lower court judges and 26,000 judicial employees nationwide. He is the leader who inspires, motivates and moves them to work unceasingly, to rise above their puny limitations, to excel beyond themselves and to achieve collectively their loftiest dreams and highest aspirations.

While the jurist in him impels the CJ to follow tradition, to uphold precedents and stabilize judicial thought, the leader in him requires him to innovate, to re-engineer, and to invent new and better ways of moving forward the judicial branch.

3. Passionate reformer and action person. Because the judiciary, like the two other branches of government, must cope with the fast changing judicial, social, economic and technological environment, the CJ must have a passion for reforms to assure speedy and equal justice for all.

This mission requires not only knowledge of law but also interaction with other offices, agencies, persons—both public and private—and even with foreign governments and international institutions. Also, to keep up with the Information Age, the judiciary must automate and computerize.

How to interact with officials and citizens, some of whom may have pending cases in the courts, without arousing public suspicion is a really sensitive balancing act. To be able to do this, the CJ, more than any other official, must rely on deep public trust in his personal integrity and independence.

4. Leader of the bar. Because supervision over the practice of law is vested in the Supreme Court by the Constitution, all lawyers look up to the CJ for guidance in their profession. This is why all bar associations want to listen to the CJ, especially a new one, for direction and inspiration.

5. Academic and maestro. As ex-officio chair of the Philippine Judicial Academy, the CJ is viewed as a guru, who is expected to make the continuing education of judges a passion and vocation. For this reason and because of lack of government resources, the CJ, without compromising judicial independence and integrity, is often constrained to turn to outside assistance.

6. Mover and shaker. As chairperson of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), the CJ is expected to find new and better ways of searching for, screening and selecting applicants for judgeships. This job is critical. The need for quality judgments begins with quality judges.

This imperative impels the CJ to move into nonjudicial endeavors, like working for better compensation, better security, and better working conditions and facilities for judges. Only by securing better pay, better security and better facilities will the JBC be able to entice the best and the brightest attorneys to join the judiciary.

7. Administrator, manager and financial wizard. The Constitution vests in the Supreme Court “administrative supervision over all courts and the personnel thereof,” as well as the appointment of its officials and employees.

This means that the CJ must be a visionary administrator, efficient manager and sensible financial wizard all at the same time. Several laws, like the Administrative Code and the General Appropriations Act, place on the CJ the responsibility of steering the entire judicial department. The Judiciary Development Fund Law (PD 1949) and the Special Allowance for the Judiciary (SAJ) Law (RA 9227) give the CJ the “exclusive sole power” to disburse the JDF and SAJ funds.

8. Role model and exemplar of public service. Our people, especially the young, look up to the CJ as an exemplar and role model. Because of our inquisitive media and open society, every public official is subjected to minute scrutiny. In their search for heroes, our people often look up to the CJ as their choice of an upright public servant.

Especially during these periods of political wrangling, civic groups and non-partisan organizations turn to the chief justice to grace their seminars and inductions. They find solace and peace in his quiet persona.

In sum, the CJ is expected to lead our highest court in its critical role as the last bulwark of democracy. Beyond that, he attends to many sensitive, non-judicial leadership duties that take him to the farthest corners of the country. That is why he is more accurately addressed as the Chief Justice of the Philippines, not just Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

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