The justice system must be overhauled

HINDSIGHT - F Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) - July 20, 2014 - 12:00am

In four months I will be 90 and I thank God and my family, particularly my dear wife, for keeping me healthy. I was already in high school in Manila when Quezon was chasing the beauty queens and dividing Quezon City among his mestizo poker cronies and friends. For many years in journalism, I have monitored our political development and moral decay. I knew many of our political leaders personally although I never was a member of any political party until last year when I joined the party ideologically shaped by former UP president Pepe Abueva. I say all these to establish my bona fides as commentator, not just on the arts, but on our political culture.

I personally got acquainted with Florencio “Butch” Abad, now DBM secretary, way back in the ‘70s and I know he is honest, efficient, and of presidential timber, like the late Rafael Salas. He has not done me any favor. I know for a fact that he has improved the Department of Budget and Management, made it more transparent, progressive and responsive to the needs of the people. He could still do more.

I do not know President P-Noy at all; it was his father Ninoy whom I knew very well, not just as a colleague at the old Manila Times, but as a personal friend and frequent visitor of my tiny bookshop. I do know P-Noy’s lackluster record both as congressman then as senator. He surprised me in his second year of office with his campaign against corruption. He has been accused of being vengeful; I do not buy this — justice is never revenge. In spite of the dip in his popularity as manifested in the recent surveys, I think he is doing very well and is far from the dictator that he is being charged with by, of all people, those who helped legitimize that immoral Marcos regime. Above all, I have it on good authority that he is honest — a quality I cannot say of many of those who are vociferously critical of him.

In stating these, I disagree with the Supreme Court. The President has the right to spend government funds where they can do the most good. What the Supreme Court should have looked after was how the moneys were spent. Did the DAP enrich anyone?

About the supposed “bribe” to the senators who voted to impeach Corona, the trial was all there on TV. In the first place, Corona, who is a lawyer, should have rejected his appointment knowing that it is illegal. Second, the impeachment proceedings showed he did not state in his SALN his true fortune.

As for the Constitution, let us stop looking at it as the most sacred of documents. It is not. It is just another piece of paper which a bad ruler mangles anyway and which a good ruler does not need. A great nation like England does not have a Constitution although it has the Magna Carta which was enacted in 1215. And for us Christians, there is the Ten Commandments; for universal man, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. We have hundreds of laws that need not be codified into the Constitution, all of them passed by Congress, and on the local level, municipal ordinances. Many of them are dead laws in the sense that they are not implemented.

The advantage of a state without laws codified into a Constitution is its capacity to enact laws that meet changing conditions and needs.

This is what the Supreme Court should have looked into: not the legality of the President’s use of the people’s money, but how it is used. In the first place, there is hardly any country that does not have a pork barrel.

All of us know that six years is too short a time for a good president to rule and too long for a bad president. In the first place, how does a president get elected? Popularity is the most important factor, not intelligence or patriotism. And the mass — in this sense — are contemptible when they vote into office the scum of the country simply because they are popular movie stars or TV personalities.

Maybe we should not give them the vote — or there should be a ban on such characters running for office higher than congressman.

And the Supreme Court: that fastidious social commentator, Amy Ylagan, showed me the other day photographs of court records clogging stairways, corridors, a situation that illustrates only too well how our justice system has deteriorated. The Supreme Court is responsible for supervising the courts. It obviously is not doing a good job.

As it is constituted today the Supreme Court is composed of lawyers — all of them. Maybe it is time that its composition should include a humanist well versed in history, maybe a retired businessman, an economist, even a distinguished military man.

I will rue the day when this nation is ruled exclusively by lawyers for they will always be legalistic and we will be bound by laws that are not always ethical, and which may be outdated and ill-adapted to the changing times and environment.

Not being a lawyer, I look at justice basically as morality which all of us understand, not just as Christians or Muslims, but as human beings, given our capacity for reason. All societies, even the most primitive, have taboos and their corresponding sanctions. More so with mature civilizations

Way back in the 1960s, I remember only too well the Profumo incident, in which a Cabinet minister in England resigned his post because of an extra-marital affair. No less than an American president, Richard Nixon, also resigned his exalted position when it was found out that he had ordered the wiretapping of meetings by the opposition in the famous Watergate case.

Such stern examples of ethical conduct — of justice — would never happen in the Philippines, not even with its Constitution and its supposedly Christian ethos.

We have too many lawyers and these lawyers must have jobs. We should close our law schools for 10 years, and limit the number of students attending law schools, make the bar exams as rigid as possible, more rigid than they are now.

And the justice system must be overhauled. I don’t really know how to do this other than see to it that judges all the way from the municipal courts to the Supreme Court should be hardworking and incorruptible, that court decisions should be shorter, and court cases should be decided faster.

It is time that we looked at our government, too, at our institutions that have not promoted justice but have, instead, enabled a powerful elite composed of not more than 400 families to form an oligarchy that has made progress their exclusive domain.

We have become too legalistic, and in the process produced too many lawyers — instead of scientists and engineers, the very people who build and produce, not argue.

Think out of the box and note that it takes at least one generation for a laid-back country to get out of the rot and rut. Look at Singapore, China, South Korea — their lessons are imperative. Their progress is not based on free elections but on governments that are strong, almost dictatorial.

The economic development under the Aquino regime is phenomenal, but fragile, for it has not seeped down fast enough to uplift the poor. For progress to continue: that should be our major concern, to assure its continuum, and see to it that he who succeeds P-Noy will be as honest and as firm in his resolution to govern.

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