Lessons from the ouster of the Chief Justice
AS EASY AS ABC - Atty. Alex B. Cabrera (The Philippine Star) - July 8, 2018 - 12:00am

Is it weariness from politics or the lack of a cause worth fighting for, that there does not seem to be enough outrage from the ouster of our Chief Justice?

It was a disqualification case filed by a supposedly co-equal branch of government that succeeded after more than six years from the time the Chief Justice assumed office, and made decisions and issued rulings on a daily basis. She gets knocked out by what appears to be an administrative matter of non-filing of statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN), particularly during the years when she was a professor at the University of the Philippines.

I heeded the advice of one eloquent justice not to judge the case with the mentality of a partially informed man on the street. So I read the decision on the main case and those written by the justices to explain why they chose not to recuse themselves.

In my opinion, it started with the political, but what wrote finis to the Chief Justice’s tenure dwelled on the personal.

In those several decisions on the inhibition case filed by the youngest Chief Justice who ever served, one justice narrated his suffering and that of his family when his nomination to the Supreme Court was blocked by the Chief Justice on grounds of integrity and “treason”. All this because of the legal stand he took on Itu Aba that may diminish Philippine territory in the “South China” Sea.

Another justice lamented how the Chief Justice wrote resolutions labelled en banc, without the participation of the rest of the justices. Another one blamed the Chief Justice for destroying the collegiality in the Supreme Court. And so it went in like manner for the six or seven justices who decided it was more important for them to objectively participate in the case than recuse themselves when they were not mandatorily required to do so.

This Sunday, I share my views on the important lessons from the ouster of the Chief Justice, almost all of them with important use in business:

1. Manage your relationship with senior people. Before you govern them, you need to respect them. They will support you not because they fear you (because they don’t), but because they care for you. I can claim some credence to say this because as a young practice leader before, I needed to deal with being “boss” of more senior co-equals (partners). What made it easier for me was while I was driven, I genuinely cared for these senior folks, too. Their wisdom can be accessed, but a leader should want and try to do so.

2. Do not underestimate the administrative. Justice Sereno is clean of corruption and not involved in any stealing of money, which SALNs are supposed to guard against. People vouched for her integrity. But the administrative detail of not submitting her SALNs for a certain number of years became her technical Achilles heel that overcame the fact that she otherwise did not commit a crime.

3. Professional relationship is still a relationship, where the little things could be big things. The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) already endorsed her appointment after evaluating her integrity, and the president (P-Noy) appointed her, further giving her a stamp of integrity. There is enough there to say it’s moot, and the infraction is not material enough to dent her integrity. Anyway, SALNs were not required before of the more senior justices. But it’s a technical ground that can also be used the other way around, as what happened here. It’s because the goodwill she built with the rest of the other justices was not sufficient to turn the tide. I am not saying that the justices are not objective. What I am saying is that they have feelings, as they are still human.

4. Let the Supreme Court choose their own Chief. After Aquino’s forced impeachment of Chief Justice Corona, and now President Duterte’s less troublesome dispatch of Chief Justice Sereno, the independence of the head of the judiciary as a co-equal body deserves stronger protection. It can start with a more unified Court. The President can continue appointing the justices but the Constitution should let the collegial body elect its own Chief. Add to that a limitation of tenure, to pave the way for the next Chief within their ranks. This way, the next president will have less opportunity to force its hand to prey on the Chief. The latter would enjoy stronger support from the justices, making the Chief’s tenure more stable, and there would be less interest to remove the incumbent if the latter’s term would anyway eventually run out.

5. When you serve as a leader, better prepare for it to be a thankless job. Whether in government or in the private sector, serving as a leader is not a vested right. Its only selfish benefit is the transitory honor it brings to one’s name.

When you serve as a leader, prepare to hope that you will be remembered by the transformation that you have helped bring about, and not by the insignificant faults that are inherent in any human being.

As for the recently ousted Chief Justice, it’s early days yet to say whether the outrage shown is insufficient or the reaction is apt. This much I know – history will be kinder to the persecuted vs. those who persecuted.

*  *  *

Alexander B. Cabrera is the chairman and senior partner of Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines. He is the Chairman of the Tax Committee, and the Vice Chairman of EMERGE (Educated Marginalized Entrepreneurs Resource Generation) program, of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP). Email your comments and questions to aseasyasABC@ph.pwc.com. This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

LIABILITIES AND NET WORTH CHIEF JUSTICE LESSONS STATEMENT OF ASSETS
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