Sereno meets with justices today

'Reforms cannot be dependent on the personalities of chief justices. It is an institutional commitment, it must be locked in place," says Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno

THE LEADER. Sereno said she has concrete plans for reforming the judiciary. Source:http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/

MANILA, Philippines  – When the Supreme Court holds it en banc session today, Tuesday, August 28, it will be presided over by the first woman chief justice of the country, Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno. 

It will be Sereno’s first formal meeting with her 13 colleagues after she took her oath last Saturday, August 25. None of the more senior justices she bypassed on the shortlist of nominees attended the ceremony in Malacañang. Reports said they were out of town, and Palace officials did not want to put any meaning to their absence.

Sereno’s appointment as chief justice came at a time of low public confidence in the Supreme Court. Her predecessor, Renato Corona, was removed from the post for failing to truthfully declare his wealth. And not a few people believe that the Court is ridden with factions and plays too much politics.

The challenge is for her to fix the Court and restore public trust in the third branch of the government. President Benigno Aquino III himself acknowledged this in a speech Monday, August 27.

She has 18 years to do this, because at 52 she will be reaching the retirement age of 70 in July 2030 yet.

But what is Sereno’s vision? What does she think should be changed, and how does she aim to make these changes?

The following have been her public pronouncements:

1. If we are to be believed by people, we have to be consistent in our decisions.

On July 27, Sereno told the Judicial and Bar Council, the body that screens and vets aspirants for judicial posts, that the Court should stand by its decisions. The Court has flip-flopped on a number of cases, notably the case involving the League of Cities of the Philippines v. Commission on Elections.

The High Court had already reversed itself not just once but thrice on the issue. In its latest ruling, penned by Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin, the Court said the laws exempting 16 towns from the requirements for cityhood under the Local Government Code were consistent with the 1987 constitution.

The SC also changed its ruling on Republic Act 9355, the law making Dinagat island a province. In 2010, the SC struck down the law as unconstitutional, but changed its mind a year later. The SC also recalled its decision on the labor case involving the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (FASAP) and Philippine Airlines. It initially ordered PAL to reinstate over 1,000 flight stewards in September 2011, but sang a different tune a month later and had the case re-opened. 

More recently in July, the SC deferred the implementation of a status quo ante order stopping the implementation of a fixed salary scheme for bus drivers, a day after it issued the said order. 

Sereno has dissented in the cases of FASAP and the League of Cities of the Philippines.

Sereno told the JBC then that if appointed chief justice, she will create a “body of experts” who will identify their decisions that “conflict with each other.”

“This body of experts, consultants will just alert that there is an occasion for us to correct the conflict in our decisions so that the ponente in charge and the division chairman can ensure that the end goal of trying to create a rational, standardized system of looking at substantive law is pushed,” she said.

Sereno added that the Court can develop a manual or an “intelligent software,” which would raise “red flags” on certain decisions.

2. The longer the case stays, the more the sense of injustice.

Before she even became part of the High Court in 2010, Sereno already had recommendations for reforms in the SC. She was a consultant for the judicial reform program of the UN Development Programme in 1995. She wrote a paper which became basis for the development of the Action Program for Judicial Reforms (APJR) under the term of then Chief Justice Hilario Davide in 2003. 

Sereno said the High Court has already started implementing some of these reforms, particularly in the area of case management and mediation. The SC has introduced court-annexed mediation, a pre-trial procedure where an SC-assigned court mediator helps resolve mediatable disputes.

She said though that the study should be reviewed and that the APJR should be updated, claiming that new research was needed on factors that affect the dispensation of justice, such as population growth.

3. To demonstrate that officials and employees of the judiciary have no skeletons to hide, Sereno said that if appointed chief justice, she will disclose to the public the Court’s disposal rate; official reports on its budget and audit by the Commission on Audit; and the state of various projects of the Court that are funded by the donor community.

Former Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio already began disclosing COA reports and budgets. Sereno will just have to sustain this. Case disposal rate by the SC is mentioned in its annual reports, although not the disposal rate of each justice (this is disclosed only in the personal data sheet submitted by a member of the court to the JBC). 

Sereno told the JBC that as of June 2012, she had an average monthly output of 78 decisions, resolutions, opinions. 

Sereno has stressed though that changing the judiciary should not be her task alone. 

“Reforms cannot be dependent on the personalities of chief justices. It is an institutional commitment, it must be locked in place,” she said. – Rappler.com

 

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