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By J. Wenceslao I. Agnir, Jr. (Ret.)
Vice Chairman, ARCAJI
(Association of Retired Court of Appeals Justices, Inc.)

What has sadly befallen the Court of Appeals recently has been derisively described by onlookers without roots to the CA as a tragedy, a terrible mess, a shameful incident, a wake-up call, a revelation of corruption, among other comments.

In one of her columns in the Inquirer, Prof. Solita Monsod likened the Court of Appeals to a barrel “full of rotten apples.” Given that the CA is the second highest court of the land, what can be more demeaning, more degrading?

Indeed, it was a “Category 5 Storm” that made a landfall on the Court of Appeals and on the entire judiciary, leaving in its wake the tattered reputations of those swept in its path.

The 23 Division Chairpersons of the Court have entered into a covenant to observe morality, fairness and righteousness in all their actions as a way of restoring the public’s trust and faith in the Court. They realize that the institution’s reputation, and by extension that of their own, has been badly tarnished and are determined to work hard to regain the public trust.

In turn, what do the retired CA Justices say about all these?

Most of them share the pain and hurt of the “good apples” among the incumbent Justices. Having spent a good number of years in the Court, they too grieve at what has happened to the institution that has become a part of their lives.

“It was a terrible blow to the reputation of the Court and the damage is immense,” laments Justice Larry Aquino, ARCAJI Chairman who also heads PHILJA’s Department of Judicial Ethics. Unless the “distorted image” of the Court is repaired, he observed, every decision coming out of the Court will be suspected of being “a fruit of dishonesty.” He hopes, however, that the incident may yet be a catharsis if the CA Justices who entered into a covenant could make good their commitment to remove corruption in the Court and “instill fear upon the few who may still be unrepentantly inclined to judicial perfidy.”

Justice Hector Hofileña, also with the Dept. of Judicial Ethics of PHILJA, believes that even as the Court experienced “the tremors that shook it for weeks, the edifice still stands,” and the majority of the members of the Court whose personal reputations are unstained are “expected to restore the Court to its rightful place in the trust and confidence of the public.” He said that the incident should serve as a reminder to all Justices of the Court “how much trust and confidence is reposed in them” by the public and that “if they should stumble, the temple of justice is cracked.”

Justice Ramon Barcelona, one of those who left the Court with an unblemished reputation, looks back with nostalgia to the days when the Court was held in high repute by the public. In those days, he reminisces, to be a CA Justice was automatically a badge of honor. To be sure, he adds, there are still many Justices who are men of honor “but sad to say, there is an unacceptable number who are not.”

Justice Teodoro Regino, ARCAJI President, and Justice Bennie Adefuin-dela Cruz, ARCAJI Trustee, share the view that the institutional weaknesses in the selection and appointment process are much to blame in the deterioration of the quality of appointees to the CA, not to mention the entire judiciary. Many times in the past, they point out, the JBC had been remiss in its bounden duty to nominate for appointment only the best and the brightest. And sad to say, they add, the problem is compounded when the appointing authority politicizes the appointment process which, unfortunately, has happened in not a few instances in the past.

On the whole, the retired Justices are hopeful that the CA can refurbish its badly tarnished image although they agree, with sadness in their hearts, that in view of what has happened the process may take some time and will require no less than the best from everyone in the entire Court.

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