Today is Sunday, September 23, 2018

Moving Forward with Unity at 72

By J. Mariano C. Del Castillo

THE YEAR 1936 saw the birth of the Court of Appeals, exactly 72 years ago.  Since that fateful year during the American colonial era, this revered judicial institution has resolved millions of contentious social, administrative, political, and legal issues. It has witnessed rallyists clamoring outside its walls. It has received outstanding visitors and has been home to numerous legal luminaries. It has been the workplace of thousands of court employees, both rank and file and officers of the Court. It has survived controversies, both internal and external. It has celebrated the most joyous national events and has mourned with the nation on the saddest of days like the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, terrorist attacks, national disasters, the passing away of Popes and other international leaders, etc.

As a relatively young Associate Justice of this Honorable Court, I assumed office seven years ago. And ever since, these buildings and this compound has become a second home to me. In my interaction with various PJs and other colleagues of mine, I saw how my own individualism and fiercely independent-minded personality could both clash and blend with those of other Justices and fellow workers at the CA. However, this is not surprising, considering the different backgrounds we all come from: diverse law schools, different social and cultural backgrounds, varied interests, ideals and values.

That being said, permit me to share my views and insights on the workings of the CA. When it comes to administrative matters, they are mostly left with the Presiding Justice and the Clerk of Court together with a variety of offices and support services. The Justices rarely venture into the daily running of this Court’s administration, unless requested by the PJ or only if a matter affects them personally. With our busy schedules, we barely have time to mingle with staff or socialize with the other Justices. Except for the occasional birthday celebration, or during the Christmas holidays, anniversaries or commemorations, and some en banc sessions, our get-togethers are practically nil. One can’t help but feel that there must be very little unity here. One could sometimes wish that we could be more like a family.

And then before we know it – another anniversary! And this Court of Appeals is suddenly turning 72 years old since its founding date of February 1, 1936! For an institution which acts as one of the watchdogs of the law, it is relatively young. We the Justices must continue to fulfill our primary task of speedily resolving cases in our dockets. Indeed, there has been a big improvement in the Court’s efficiency in disposing cases. Thanks to the praiseworthy performance of the people behind it. But if this august institution is to mark itself as a well-functioning Court, it will have to progress and strengthen itself more.

How will the CA do this? In my humble opinion, a vital area to work on is to put our workplace in better shape. We, the members of this Court, can achieve this goal by helping one another and putting ourselves at the disposition and under the able leadership of our well-loved Presiding Justice Choy Vasquez.

Without any doubt, all of us will agree that the entire Court of Appeals compound needs a major makeover. It needs a beautification program, not only of its buildings and infrastructures, but also a significant improvement of basic facilities for the physical and psychological well-being, not only of the Justices, but of all the employees and workers in this Court.

Just look at the 3rd and 4th floors of the Main Building!  Any passerby from Maria Orosa Street would feel sorry for us just by looking at the soot-colored and damaged paint job of a fire-ravaged edifice. Look at the disparity of architectural styles of the facades of the Main Building, Centennial Building and the Annex-I Building. Not to mention the interiors, mostly dilapidated, with office spaces crowded and cramped-up.

What about the Court’s IT (Information Technology) and filing systems? Many computers being used by the CA staff are obsolete by today’s standards. Even the one assigned to me is a nine-year old Pentium III model which would not be able to launch the new MS Vista. The Lex Libris we are using is still the outdated 2005 version. And what happened to the Lot A project which is supposed to connect us to the World Wide Web? Everyone now is going broadband and wireless! What about us!?

Let’s take a look at the Court of Appeals Library. It is in dire need of new law books, badly needed by our Justices to keep up with the dynamics of jurisprudence! It goes without saying that if the roof is leaking, it has to be sealed and fixed. If the walls have holes, they must be repaired. And of course, a final touch of fresh paint always adds a brand new look to any room or space.

These hollowed halls of justice do not always smell hollowed but instead exude the smell of unkept comfort rooms. We must sanitize our toilets and improve the ventilation system of our washrooms and lavatories. We need to feel responsible for the upkeep of our workplace and love it with at least half, if not equal, care we give our own homes where our own families live.

The Court of Appeals should reflect the purpose and character of the Judiciary. This institution should, therefore, evoke dignity, public respect, inspiration, and a morale boost for those of us working here so that we can effectively render the public service our nation deserves.

The bottom line of course is that a more presentable and comfortable workplace does not come easily nor cheaply. THIS IS OUR CHANCE THEN TO ASSERT OUR IDENTITY AS MEMBERS OF THE COURT OF APPEALS TO REALLY LIVE AND WORK AS ONE BIG FAMILY AND TRULY MAKE THIS OUR SECOND HOME!

A proactive approach is needed. We only have to demand from the Legislative Branch of government the fair and just funding our buildings deserve. It is high time we push for allocation of funds for major renovations and the provision of court facilities. Let us discuss this in our meetings. Let us swamp Congress with requests during budget hearings. As Justices of this Court we do enjoy personal rights and privileges. It is but just and fitting that we also think of the rest of our judicial community and the premises they occupy. I entreat my honorable colleagues in the Judiciary to please aim for this ideal of community building. Let us stand behind our PJ Choy Vasquez and with him, let us push in the same direction.

The age of 72 might be twilight in the natural life of a man. But for a judiciary institution such as the Court of Appeals of the Republic of the Philippines, it is just the beginning! Let us move forward with our sights in the coming years ahead in this 21st Century –serving God and our fellowmen.

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