MANILA, Philippines - Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno assured Vice President Jejomar Binay that she is no activist and will strive to promote stability while she is in charge of the judiciary for the next 18 years.
"Rather than your revolutionary rebel who is restless at heart and is just willing to tear the town hall down, I'm far from that characterization. You can be sure that the 18 years before us will be years of judicial stability," Sereno said in her keynote speech at a testimonial dinner for her hosted by the University of the Philippines Law Alumni Association on Friday, September 14.
Minutes before, Binay had cautioned Sereno against judicial activism that could turn the Supreme Court into a "maker" of law, instead of an interpreter.
Sereno insisted she is "tough and ready for great sacrifices" and plans to overhaul the Philippine judiciary system during her term.
"The task before me is to prove that the words that I have spoken before the public are credible and they can be relied upon."
The event held in the Manila Polo Club in Makati marked the first time Binay spoke at length about the judiciary, as well as the first public event both were together since Sereno was appointed on August 28, when the vice president admitted he was surprised she was picked but appealed to the public to support her.
Politicians must trust the judiciary
Sereno noted she wants to lead change, but for that to happen she needs support from politicians.
"We in the judiciary face a paradox: we are supposed to be strong and independent, but at the same time have to plead our cause before the Senate, the House and even the executive department."
The judiciary, she said, is expected by the public to have "spines of steel" but in fact, it must constantly negotiate with these political agencies precisely to maintain that cherished independence from them.
Sereno said they need to convince the politicians that "the future of the Filipinos lies in a very independent judiciary," so they will release sufficient funds for the system to work properly.
"They have to trust us. They are endangering their parochial self-interest by trusting us, but they are [also] investing in the future."
Again referring to its budget, Sereno complained that in the judiciary "we see ourselves as second-class citizens vis-a-vis the political branches of government."
That must change in the future for the sake of democracy, she insisted.
"If there is anything that will ensure the stability of our nation, it will be the judiciary. If there is anything that can assure we will survive as a democracy, a vibrant one, where we can speak and debate without violence the issues that are raging in out time, it will have to be because there is a judiciary. There is no other alternative."
Restoring credibility and public trust
After less than a month in power, the new Chief Justice said she has her priorities straight.
The first item on her agenda is restoring credibility and public trust in an institution tarnished by the impeachment of her predecessor, Renato Corona.
Sereno announced that she will approve measures to show the public "that we are willing to regulate ourselves in a powerful way" and told the judges she will as fair to them as to the rest of the people, but she will not tolerate any foul play.
"I will presume good faith on their part. I am willing to give second chances, but when i see that something is wrong, something has been done that is not proper, I will not hesitate to call on them to make them personally accountable even to the Chief Justice."
Nevertheless, she stressed, there is will be "no recrimination or vindictiveness on my part. i have no reason to distrust any one of them."
Improve quality of judicial actions
Another top priority for Sereno will be to improve the quality of judicial actions, particularly regarding speed, predictability and rationality of decisions.
"There must be no more judicial actions that so enrage the public because coz they gave a verdict that was unexpected, but because the reason is not there to support the decision."
In order to correct this, the Chief Justice said she will ask Congress to allow her to convene a committee of expert academics and litigators to analyze decisions that conflict with each other.
"I want red flags to be there," she explained, and added, "This is an opportunity for us to correct and stabilize jurisprudence."
Sereno likewise announced she wants targets on how soon decisions can be handed down on certain matters and for each judge to be provided with a confidential lawyer he can trust and will retain when he moves from one court to another.
The new Chief Justice also pushed for a new system of rewards and incentives that will "recognize the judges for the value of the work they have been doing" and not temp them to "cut corners."
18-year plan for reform
Sereno is dead set on staying on top of the Supreme Court for the full 18 years of her appointment.
"There is so much work to do. If i am able to achieve milestones, it will be an 18 year plan," she said before explaining that she will dedicate the first 10 years to "re-engineering the system" and the last 8 to firmly putting in place all the reforms so the "improvements go deep down and the foundations are strong."
"We want to give you a judiciary that you can be proud of," she concluded in front of old colleagues, college friends and former mentors such as senators Edgardo Angara or Franklin Drilon. - Rappler.com
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