EDITORIAL - Unresolved

The Philippine Star

The 16th Congress made history when it impeached and removed a chief justice for failing to declare bank deposits in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth. The dramatic, speedy impeachment trial, unfortunately, was not matched in performance by the courts.

Renato Corona died last Friday with the cases against him still unresolved. He was fighting a graft case before the Sandiganbayan, a civil forfeiture case, and charges of evading taxes on his undeclared bank deposits.

To the end he professed his innocence; those who booted him out of office insist that they did the right thing. Both sides would have wanted validation by the courts. You’d think a former chief magistrate would get speedy justice, but this was not the case with Corona.

Perhaps we can look on the bright side and be glad that at least the judiciary is an equal-opportunity administrator of slow justice – even when the party involved is the former head of the judicial branch. Corona’s death without seeing the courts render judgment on his case, however, is just the latest reminder to the judiciary that it must improve its performance.

The glacial pace of Philippine justice has long been a complaint of practically everyone, from disgraced presidents and big-ticket investors to impoverished farmers. Decades-long litigation has become a national embarrassment, especially since several of the country’s neighbors have repeatedly shown that it is possible to deliver swift, decisive justice.

The snail’s pace of justice is also one of the reasons why Filipinos tolerate extrajudicial methods of fighting crime. This also has to be among the reasons why voters tend to go for candidates who promise short cuts to justice, and why voters have sent to Congress even retired Army general Jovito Palparan, dubbed “The Butcher” by human rights groups.

Slow justice, it has been stressed often enough, is an injustice. Like red tape, slow justice also opens opportunities for corruption, with parties paying just to speed up litigation. It makes the quest for justice costly and a luxury for the poor. The death of a former chief magistrate, with the cases against him barely moving through the courts, should inspire much-needed reforms in the administration of justice.

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