In the distant past when I was still a young practicing lawyer, the Supreme Court was a forbidding fortress. Its thick, sturdy walls segregated the justices from the rest of the country. The Supreme Court magistrates took a vow of silence and lived in hermetic isolation. Rarely seen, they were better read than heard. Because they were thought to possess infinite wisdom like the legendary deities on Mount Olympus, no one dared question their decisions and actions.
Added responsibilities. As the years passed, the information revolution and the demands of accountability and transparency compelled the opening of some fortress windows through which the public began to know the Olympic dwellers and their work.
Through the years too, the chief justice was given more responsibilities that required interaction with the outside world. The supervision of the lower court judges and personnel was transferred from the Department of Justice to the Supreme Court. The checking process for new magistrates was moved from the Commission on Appointments (of Congress) to the Judicial and Bar Council headed by the chief justice and placed under the high court’s supervision.
Moreover, the regular budget and extra funds, like the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF) and the Special Allowances for the Judiciary (SAJ), were placed under the chief justice’s sole discretion. The supervision and continuing education of judges and lawyers were likewise lodged with the high court. These additional duties and responsibilities made the chief justice not only the primus of the Supreme Court but also the leader and chief executive officer (CEO) of the entire judiciary.
As leader and CEO, the chief justice spends about 70 percent of his time and attention untangling and solving the administrative, financial and management concerns of the 2,000 lower court judges and 26,000 judicial employees nationwide.
Contrasting functions. To perform his duties as the nation’s top jurist, the chief justice must be a brilliant decision writer with superior intellectual gravitas, untarnished integrity and unquestioned independence that the 14 associate justices can look up to. Beyond that, he must also be a great leader and innovator. Verily, he should be a perceptive thinker and wise decision maker as well as a compelling people mover.
Because of these contrasting roles, the chief justice becomes some kind of paradox. As a jurist crafting landmark decisions, he is expected to be detached, unreachable, untouchable and unfathomable. Yet, as leader and CEO, he has to be transparent, reachable and accountable; he needs to be a dynamic team builder and people mover.
As leader and CEO, he must think outside the box, redesign, reengineer, reinvent new and better ways of energizing and moving forward, even if the jurist in him compels him to follow tradition, to uphold precedents and to stabilize judicial doctrines. Indeed, the chief justice must blend the reclusion needed by a magistrate to be able to reflect, to ponder and to write, with the people skills required from the CEO of the third branch of government.
Vision-mission. Every leader and CEO worth his/her salt must, I think, articulate a brief statement of his vision, mission and values. This statement must clearly show the goals he seeks and the ways to reach them. It is the guide, nay the bible, for his various constituencies to help him attain his goals. It also serves as the standard to judge him at the end of his term.
For example, upon assuming office, Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide Jr., my predecessor, spelled out his vision and mission in his “Davide Watch” thus: “A judiciary that is independent, effective and efficient, and worthy of public trust and confidence. A legal profession that provides quality, ethical, accessible and cost-effective legal service to our people and is willing and able to answer the call of public service.”
To implement his avowed goals, Chief Justice Davide later unveiled a detailed and wide-ranging “Action Program for Judicial Reform” (APJR) that he passionately pursued during his term. The World Bank adopted the APJR as its model for all countries seeking its assistance.
Modesty aside but by way of another example, may I also mention my own vision-mission statement as chief justice, as follows:
“I vow to lead a judiciary characterized by four Ins: integrity, independence, industry and intelligence—one that is morally courageous to resist influence, interference, indifference and insolence. I envision a judiciary that is impervious to the plague of four ships: kinship, relationship, friendship and fellowship.
“I pledge to continue and strengthen the Supreme Court’s ongoing Action Program for Judicial Reform, with special focus on what I call the four ACID problems that corrode justice in our country: (1) limited access to justice by the poor; (2) corruption, (3) incompetence, and (4) delay in the delivery of quality justice.
“I look for competent and ethical lawyers who are responsible, dependable, and morally upright; and who courageously uphold truth and justice above everything else.
“I shall grant maximum financial and fringe benefits to our 26,000 employees nationwide from whom, in turn, I ask for three things: (1) dedication to duty, (2) honesty in every way, and (3) loyalty to the judiciary (or DHL).
“All the foregoing visions and objectives must lead to the two loftier goals of safeguarding the liberty and nurturing the prosperity of our people under the rule of law. These twin beacons of
LIBERTY and PROSPERITY constitute my core judicial philosophy.”
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