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Justice Leonen’s Mission Impossible

It was a  milestone when the Supreme Court decided to form a special committee to investigate alleged influence peddlers in the judiciary, especially a certain Arlene Angeles Lerma identified as the suspected “Ma’m Arlene,” the judiciary’s version of Janet Lim Napoles.

Personally, I was very relieved when the investigation was taken out of the hands of Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez. As I have stated before, this previous spokesperson of impeached Renato Corona has been responsible for judicial discipline and investigation of administrative cases filed against judges.

I am not a lawyer. But several lawyer friends of mine have told me that when cases are filed in the Office of the Court Administrator, like a tiring refrain from an old song, “they just lie there and they die there.”

The head of the special investigation committee is Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen. Although I do not personally know him, his credentials and reputation give me hope that finally we have a person who will have the courage and integrity to start the cleansing of the judiciary.

Justice Leonen, at 49, is the youngest member of the Supreme Court. He was the government peace negotiator and during his stint the Peace Framework Agreement between the Philippine Government and the MILF was signed. Before that he was Dean of the U.P. College of Law.

In the same year that he passed the Bar, he co-founded the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center, Inc., a legal and policy research and advocacy institution which focused on providing legal services for upland rural poor and indigenous people’s communities. He served as Executive Director for 15 years.

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It is good to remember that the executive department can file all the charges but it is the judiciary who will determine guilt or innocence. There have been so many charges filed against personalities like Imelda Marcos, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Jocjoc Bolante, et al. But how many have been convicted?

The best control system to ensure good governance — whether in government, business, religious groups or the judiciary – is public transparency. After all, why insist on secrecy if there is nothing to hide?

That is why I have been repeatedly requesting that there be public disclosure of all the pending administrative cases in the Office of the Court Administrator. Is it true that there are more than 180 cases still pending in the office of Midas Marquez? Is it true that some of them are several years old?

I recently had a conversation about the Office of the Court Administrator with Marites Vitug, one of the few truly credible investigative journalists in the country. She has suggestions on other information that should be made public by this extremely secretive office. 

I hope Justice Leonen does not mind a few suggestions from a couple of non-lawyers. Here are some information that should be monitored and made public.

First, the identity of justices, judges and court personnel sanctioned, as well as for what offense, each year. This will give us an idea how many (or how few) judicial personnel are actually sanctioned. It should also tell us how many (or how few) have been sanctioned for major offenses.

Second, the budget of each court and the savings from funded courts which are not operating. Now that the Supreme Court is about to render a decision on the DAP, it would be interesting to find out how the judiciary decides to reallocate their own “savings” or whatever term they use.

Third, the caseloads of lower courts from regional trial courts to municipal trial courts. This will show which courts can be paired with others. For example, if the case load of one court is low, then the judge of that court can be assigned to concurrently work in a court with heavier load.

Finally, I want to repeat a story a lawyer friend told me that when a court is vacant, then assisting judges can be appointed for specific cases. Supposedly, a permanent judge in another court can be appointed as a temporary assisting judge for a specific case as a “reward.” But I am not sure how being assigned to a land title case is considered as a reward.

There was a time when being a lawyer was considered an honourable profession. And the peak of this profession was to be a member of the judiciary. Is it possible to see a return to those times?

I was listening to a recent television interview of several law students from some of the  best law schools in the country. One interesting comment was that all of them would be very willing to be a lawyer for Janet Lim Napoles. One said, in particular, it would be “challenging” to win defending a client the whole nation hated.

For these law students, winning is the most important thing. This reminds me of businessmen who say that maximizing profit is the principal purpose of a business. These businessmen believe that as long as they obey the laws, any action in maximizing profit is justified.

Fortunately, today more and more businessmen accept that they have corporate social responsibilities which go beyond just obeying laws. Sometimes adhering to these responsibilities to society may be at the cost of additional profits. But in the end, it is the common good that overrides personal or corporate good.

Perhaps, someday our lawyers will have their own version of their social responsibilities for the common good which goes beyond winning cases.

Perhaps, the Leonen Committee will restore the judiciary to its previous honourable standing. Perhaps we will finally witness the “mission impossible” of cleansing the judiciary of all forms of corruption.  Just like in the movie.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com


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