Today is Sunday, August 19, 2018

Quo Vadis Court of Appeals?

By J. Mar Del Castillo

The Court of Appeals has established itself as a training ground and a major selection pool for future Supreme Court Justices. Its jurists were highly revered as they brought honor in the august halls of this institution with their lives, integrity, and erudition. It was once the court of the late legal luminaries in the likes of Justice J.B.L. Reyes, Justice Roberto Concepcion, and Justice Cecilia Muñoz-Palma, as well as the living legend Justice Ricardo C. Puno. The present chancellor of the PHILJA Justice Ameurfina M. Herrera and the current magistrates of the High Court specifically Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Justice Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez, Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales, Justice Adolfo S. Azcuna, Justice Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr., Justice Ruben T. Reyes, Justice Arturo D. Brion, and Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno were once part of the CA family. Since its creation in 1936, it has never stopped in its endeavor to establish a revered citadel of justice. Through the years, it underwent many changes in its organizational structure, its stewards, its rules, its extent of jurisdiction and its functions— all these for the sake of stepping up to and keeping itself abreast to the challenge of judicial excellence and to remain as an efficient and reliable instrument in upholding law and equity.

A few months ago, the reputation that was slowly built by our forebears was put to the test and threatened. It not only divided the CA and made its magistrates wallow in a mud of perfidy, but this invited a lot of media frenzy and opened the Court to public criticism and its credibility questioned. Embarrassing headlines, articles, and editorials pictured the Court as the microcosm of the current state of the Bench as laden with anomalies, corruption and outside influences. Now its corridors are haunted with grim and pathetic negative attention and notions of bribery, improprieties, conflict of interests and partiality. Critics and skeptics think that the deficiencies in the CA system have already metastasized. A columnist sneered and remarked: “A reformed Court of Appeals?!?” Another editorial also satirized the Court by labelling the organization as “a court with no appeal”. Some went overboard by calling for the resignation of all the CA Justices to give the CA a fresh start, although this is just throwing the baby out with the bathwater. What happened should never be seen as a reflection of the entire institution, and in no way should the nation generalize that all of the Justices are corrupt and inept. However, the Court cannot blame the public for the shattered trust.

Probes on why this crisis came about led to pinpointing loopholes in the system, in society in general. One common complaint is that the selection process of appointees is not a foolproof one and hence, needs fine tuning. Also beyond gainsay is that unscrupulous practices such as bribery, are countenanced by the lawyers and litigants themselves. The Court is not entirely worth all the center of tirades after all. On the other hand, Justices admit that they are not without imperfections either, for no one can claim to be righteous in the true sense of the word. It is so easy to look at the experience negatively, but it fell out well to make them see and acknowledge the lamentable reality that are not really mere whispers of pervading unethical practices and tittle-tattles about people of doubtful integrity. A Justice ought to have two salts—the salt of wisdom, lest he be insipid; and the salt of conscience, lest he be devilish. In the eyes of the Supreme Court, some CA Justices lacked either of these salts and gave them the judicial cleansing. It took the CA Justices some good lashings as to make them realize that maintaining the status quo will only be catastrophic.

The CA Justices are putting the past to rest and are facing the music. And yes, the SC cleansing procedure as part of its aim to strengthen the judicial system was a good start. Then last September 15, reaffirming that Justices are answerable not only to the people but also to the Supreme Judge, the Justices signed a covenant for moral recovery and pledged anew to step up morally in the fulfillment of their public duty to dispense justice, the very objective for which the CA was established. On the same day, the Court inaugurated the CA-One Stop Processing Center for the benefit of those who turn to it for judicial review of their cases. The Court is also working on infrastructure projects to beautify its physical appearance. But the most welcoming of all is that other institutional reforms are in the works to jettison the odium that has attached to the Court, and to increase the institution’s transparency and accountability. Justices are working out on the revision of the Internal Rules of the CA to plug loopholes in the rules, the appointment of a resident ombudsman to serve as the Court’s watchdog, the appointment of a “Justice of the Day” to oversee the CA’s day-to-day operations, and the electronic raffling of cases to rid of suspicions that the raffling of cases to ponentes are rigged. The Court cannot promise whether the courses it will take will successfully play out in the CA landscape, but assures everyone that it shall continuously and courageously deal with the affairs of life in the organization.

So has the glory days of this Court waned? As a phoenix’s life span nears its end, it builds itself a nest, burns itself in the nest, and is reduced to ashes. From there a new phoenix arises and soars into the sky. That is how the Court of Appeals will live, immortal and regenerative. Never will any scandal bring this institution down. All justices make mistakes, but wise justices do not iterate them.

Copyright © 2016 Court of Appeals Website
Designed, developed and maintained by the MIS Division

Make fonts bigger. Make fonts smaller. Return fonts to normal size. Open printer friendly version of this document.