Warning to judges and court personnel

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez (The Freeman) - March 4, 2021 - 12:00am

The strength of the nation depends largely on the people’s abiding faith in and support for the government. And the administration of justice is one of the most important pillars of the people’s faith.

During the pandemic lockdown last year, I was able to complete writing and publication of 10 books, one of which is a compendium on legal and judicial ethics now available in the bookstores. In that book, I wrote about the role of great magistrates and jurists, starting with the chief justices. They include Chief Justices Cayetano L Arellano  (1901-1920), Victorino M Mapa (1920-1921), Manuel G Araullo (1921-1924), Ramon Q Avancena (1925-1941), Jose Abad Santos (1941-42), Jose Y Yulo (1942-1945), Manuel Moran (1945-1951), Ricardo M Paras (1951-1961), Cesar C Bengzon (1961-1966), Roberto R Concepcion (1966-1973), Querube C Makalintal (1973-1975), Fred Ruiz Castro (196-1979), Enrique M Fernando (199-1985), Felix V Makasiar (July 1985-November 1985), Ramon C Aquino (1985-1987). If you remember, during the Edsa Revolt, President Marcos took his oath before Chief Justice Aquino in Malacanang. President Cory Aquino was sworn before Justice Claudio Teehankee in Club Filipino in Greenhills, San Juan City.

President Cory appointed Claudio Teehankee (1987-1988), Pedro Yap ( April 1988-June 30, 1988), Marcelo B Fernan (1988-1991),  Andres R Narnasa (1991-1998), Hilario G Davide, Jr (1998-2005), Artemio V Panganiban (2005- 2006), Reynator S Puno (2006-2010),  Renato C Corona ( 2010-2012), Ma Lourdes A Sereno ( 2012-20180, Teresita J Leonardo-de Castro ( Aug 2018-October 2018), Lucas P Bersamin ( 2018-2019), Diosdado M Peralta (2019-2021). He was supposed to retire in 2022 yet, but he opted to advance his retirement one year in advance at age 69. President Duterte will have the prerogative to have appointed no less than four (4) Chief Justices, and almost all the 15 members of the Court except only Justices Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Marvic Leonen and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa who were appointees of PNoy. The rest of the 15 are all Duterte appointees: Alexander Gesmundo, Ramon Paul Hernando, Rosmari D Carandang, Amy L Javier, Henry Jean Paul B Inting, Rodil V Zalameda, Mario V Lopez, Edgardo L delos Santos, Samuel H Gaerlan, Priscilla J Baltazar-Padilla and Ricardo R Rosario.

In my book, I discussed many cases where judges of the lower courts were dismissed based on a number of causes, including grave misconduct, immorality and corruptions, among others. One case (AM 1886) decided by the Supreme Court en banc on July 28, 2017 involved a municipal judge in Mindanao who was dismissed for serious misconduct and immorality. He brandished an armalite against the police and other people in connection with a land dispute. On immorality, an anonymous complaint was found to be true that he left his legitimate wife, impregnated three women and had children with each of them. In ordering his dismissal from the service, the highest court of the land condemned his acts and behavior and declared that the judge does not deserve to remain in the bench. The normal Achiles' Heels of male judges are money, women and, believe me, ignorance of the law.

Another issue against judges is sloth and lack of hard work and focus. Cases are allowed to be pending for years and they do not have a sense nor urgency. There was a lady judge assigned in Mandaue who was promoted to the Court of Appeals. An audit of pending cases conducted by the Office of the Court Administrator indicated that she had too many unresolved issues and pending cases that were not acted upon. She was ordered to pay her whole year salary as fine to the government. My take on that is to require liquidation of backlog before allowing her promotion. Another cause is gross ignorance of the law. How can a judge be ignorant of the law? But two Makati regional trial judges were dismissed on that basis. One of them was supposed to retire in two months’ time.  Thus he lost all retirement benefits and has to suffer all the other accessory penalties.

The Court also reminds judges not to engage in partisan political activities, also not to put themselves in situations where there are conflicting interests. They are reminded to behave like Caesar's wife -- beyond reproach. They should be competent, committed to the rule of law and conscientious enough to know the law and to keep updating themselves, considering that the legal system and the controlling doctrines and jurisprudence so dynamic and ever-changing. To the judges and their personnel, much are given, thus, much more are expected.

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