Disciplining justices and its implications


The recent decision of the Supreme Court dismissing from service a justice of the Court of Appeal and suspending another is a landmark development in cleansing the Philippine judiciary. The whole affair with its scenario of accusations and counter-accusations spiced with implications of intrigue and bribery has certainly plastered a thick dirt on the face of the country's judicial system.

Those justices are supposed to be among the cream in the hierarchy of court magistrates. In fact, from their ranks are usually recruited those who would later sit on the benches in the Supreme Court, the highest judicial body of the land. Yet those honorable gentlemen succumbed to the inducement of power play, greed and glory. If such highly placed (and paid) magistrates committed lapses in the performance of their duty, how much more those in the lower courts in various local government units?

Indeed, anomalies in lower courts have been common knowledge to everyone, especially those who have had transacted business with these offices. For instance, some time ago there was a scandal on overpricing of marriage licenses perpetrated in Cebu-based courts. Then there were irregularities in the determination of court jurisdiction, as well as in the issuance of search and arrest warrants. A judge in a Cebu court was dismissed for immoral activities and another was disciplined for ignorance of the law. The most serious malpractice, of course, involves issuance of slanted decisions for monetary considerations - a practice of which many lawyers and their clients have been victimized but have chosen to remain uncomplaining for obvious reasons.

These irregularities notwithstanding, the people's faith in our judicial system still remains, to a certain extent, intact. This is so because, despite the presence of "hoodlums in robes," to quote former president Estrada, there are still a good number of judges and justices whose integrity have remained unsullied. Without them the rule of law in this country would have been long gone with the wind.

That decision of the Supreme Court on the CA justices is indeed a shining light for the Philippine judicial system. It is also a boost to democracy because this type of governance is only as strong as the strength of its rule of law.

Viewed in light of the current state of things, the rule of law seems to have been eroded. The popular viewpoint is this: The law is partial to the malakas, unfair to the rank and file. Who usually gets collared for graft? Only the small fries, the big ones happily get away. Have you ever heard of a cabinet secretary, for example, who got convicted for venalities? You haven't. But what about their subalterns or middle-level workers? Many have been thrown into the cold.

Were the rule of law to be strictly observed elections would have been credible and electoral contests minimized. Unfortunately, during elections, the law is violated left and right. From campaigning to counting there are practices which flout legal prescriptions. That's why one can see pictures of candidates plastered anywhere instead of in designated areas. That's why there's no limits to campaigning and some candidates or would be candidates manage to get tv exposure while espousing certain programs or promoting certain products. Vote buying? It's openly done and nobody raises an eye-brow anymore.

From elections to every day life one can see evidence of how lightly rules and regulations are taken by almost everyone - government authorities or the governed. Traffic rules, for instance, are observed only when enforcers are around. As for the enforcers themselves, how many have not yielded to the temptation of lagay?

 In the domestic scene there's a law against indiscriminate throwing of garbage, but why are garbage piled here and there in sidewalks? There's a law against polluting the air, but have you not seen smoke-belchers blackening the air you breathe? Have you not observed your neighbors burning their waste and detritus in open fires?

As stated, the High Courts' disciplinary action against the big shots in its corridors is a milestone insofar as upholding the rule of law is concerned. Will it be the start of a broom wielding in the judiciary? Will it jumpstart an all out war against government irregularities?

Only the events will tell us in each hour, to quote a poet.

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