Filipino justice—from concept to practice

Interesting, challenging and at times intriguing were the readers’ replies to the query I posed last Sunday on whether our present justice system reflects the Filipino concept of justice articulated by Dean Jose Manuel I. Diokno. These replies were posted on this paper’s website ( More numerous and many from abroad were those e-mailed directly to me. They could fill up several columns. For all these, I am grateful.

Ferdinand and Cory. Meanwhile, as promised, let me take up Dean Diokno’s answer to the query. He began with a brief history of our judiciary, from the 1936 Constitution which required jurists to be appointed by the president with the consent of the Commission on Appointments.

He rued that when martial law was imposed in 1972, the judiciary’s independence suffered three “assaults”—(1) at the beginning of the iron rule, all judges were required to resign; (2) then, under the 1973 Constitution, they were authorized to “continue in office until they reach[ed] the age of 70 unless sooner replaced” by law or presidential decree; and (3) the Judiciary Act of 1980 allowed President Ferdinand Marcos to remove judges perceived to be against his regime.

After the fall of Marcos, President Cory Aquino purged the judiciary of “many judges identified with Marcos.” The 1987 Constitution tried to restore judicial independence by vetting judicial nominations via the newly-conceived Judicial and Bar Council (JBC).

However, Diokno grieved that the JBC “has not lived up to its intended purpose. Judges who had been purged by President Aquino managed to find their way back into the judiciary… Judges who applied for promotion often spoke of the need for political backers.”

SALNs and PDS. He lamented that during the last 20 years, the “Supreme Court has made it very difficult to obtain the SALNs (Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth) of justices and judges by imposing additional conditions for access not found in the SALN laws (RA 3019 and 6713).”

May I, however, interject that on June 11, 2013, the Court granted the request of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and authorized the release to PCIJ of the SALNs and Personal Data Sheets (PDS) of all sitting justices from their appointment to 2011.

Veering to another topic, Diokno said the Court “disturbed a basic, time-honored principle—immutability of final judgments… in the ‘Sixteen Cities’ case… and soon spread to other cases… The demolition of the immutability of final judgments doctrine… was institutionalized by the Internal Rules of the Supreme Court promulgated on May 4, 2010, (specifically) Section 3 of Rule 15” allowing second motions for reconsideration under certain conditions.

Diokno also decried “congestion and delay in our courts,” noting “that 26 percent of our courts—more than one out of every four courts—have no judges… The problem is compounded by the cumbersome court procedures which we took from the United States and which were designed for a jury system when we have no juries here… Isn’t it about time that we develop[ed] court rules that are consistent with the Filipino concept of justice?”

He also criticized “chambers practice” in which cases are sometimes decided via the “old boys” network, political connections, school chums, relatives and friends. To avoid this, he proposed that justices and judges be “required to disclose their clients and other potential conflicts of interest.”

Still hopeful. Though he believed the judiciary had not lived up to the Filipino concept of justice, Diokno was still hopeful of the reforms proposed by the Supreme Court. He recalled that in 1981, “Ka Pepe submitted an amicus curiae memorandum to the Supreme Court in De La Llana vs Alba (March 12, 1982), involving the constitutionality of the Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1981 (BP 129). What he said 21 years ago about the judiciary—on who is to blame for its sorry state—still holds true today:

“‘One last word… [C]ounsel had laid the blame for the sorry state of the Judiciary mainly on the policies of the present regime and partly on some acts of members of the Court. But they are not alone to blame… We … all must bear some share of responsibility … for the present situation. Because by act or omission, at one time or another, we have all contributed to it; most of us by unnecessary delays, some in more reprehensible ways, and all by not speaking out as often and as forcefully as we could…’

“That is why I have chosen to focus my attention on this subject. The problems and prospects of the Philippine Judiciary are actually a challenge not only to my generation but to succeeding generations of Filipino lawyers.

“But can we really expect genuine changes to take place in our lifetime?”

Concluding his thesis, Diokno remained hopeful: “I will leave you as I started, with the words of Ka Pepe: ‘If you mean meet completely and immediately, they are. But only yesterday in world time, it was thought impossible to land on the moon. And not too long ago, Aristotle—one of the wisest of men—justified slavery as natural and listed torture as a source of evidence. Standards thought too high today may well turn out to be too low tomorrow. But whether they do so or not is not really important. What Nikos Kazantzakis said of freedom can be said of justice: the superior virtue is not to receive justice, it is to fight relentlessly for it—to struggle for justice in time, yet under the aspect of eternity.’”

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