Today is Sunday, November 19, 2017
  
 

We Are What We Do

By J. Edgardo P. Cruz


I have always been one to view the glass as half-full and my impression on the recent scandal that rocked the very foundations of this Court is no different. The integrity of our institution may have been seriously impaired, our reputation ruined and our actions now treated with doubt and suspicion. But all is not lost. If there is one good thing that came out of this, it is the excellent opportunity for change, not only in the Court of Appeals as a whole but in the people that comprise it. While we pick up the pieces in the aftermath of the storm, let us ponder on where we went wrong, draw valuable lessons from the experience and commit ourselves to rebuilding the Court as a bastion of honor, justice and truth.

As scandals go, protagonists usually try to justify their actions. However, in the end, they are judged not according to their own perceptions of right and wrong but in keeping with the norms of conduct they are expected to observe under the circumstances. What then does this teach us?

The lesson here is: We are what we do.

No matter how good our intentions are, our motives pure and our ideals lofty, we will be measured on the basis of our actions. This is the inherent limitation of human justice. For we have yet to evolve into higher beings with the ability to read the mind and examine the soul to find reasons for certain actions.

Rules of judicial conduct are drawn up precisely to establish standards by which to evaluate the propriety of our actions. Thus, if a particular act is found incompatible with, or contrary to, the canons of judicial ethics, it will be declared as such, regardless of the motivations behind the act. Arguably, good faith is seldom considered an acceptable defense in administrative cases involving judges. One reason is that, as members of the bench, we are deemed to have accepted and understood, without qualification or question, these norms of conduct upon assuming office.

The canons are, for the most part, generally worded as to encompass every act which reflects on the judiciary’s integrity, competence and independence. Having been selected to sit in the second highest court of the land, we are considered intelligent, competent and possessing the moral qualities necessary to infer specific rules of conduct from these general norms and apply them not only in the performance of our official duties but also in our personal affairs.

Expectedly, the propriety of our conduct as members of the bench is determined in much the same way we resolve cases before us – based on the established facts and the applicable law. Such determination will hinge not only on our own credibility but also on whether our version of the facts is credible in itself.

With this in mind, the challenge we face now is how to conduct ourselves in keeping with the values we hold dear and avoid or, at least, minimize our exposure to situations which may cast doubt on our integrity and independence. We must not only shun improprieties but also consciously strive to avoid the appearance or perception of impropriety. As they say, appearance is a manifestation of reality; it puts one in the uncomfortable position of having to explain himself.

No doubt, we cannot entirely detach our role as dispensers of justice from our personal ties and commitments. As someone once said, it is impossible to be loyal to your family, friends, country and principles, all at the same time. In the final analysis, however, it is not just a question of loyalty but of doing the right thing. And there lies the rub. What may be right for one may be wrong for another and the dilemma is heightened for a member of the bench who is confronted not only with moral and legal issues but also public perception of his actions. What is right is not necessarily found in written law nor easily discernible as black and white. Even so, it is there for us to find, beyond self-interest, in the very core of our being where truth and justice reside.

While it may take some time for the Court of Appeals to cleanse its tarnished image, we, who comprise it, should not feel discouraged or burdened by the weight of criticism and the effects of negative public perception. Admittedly, our situation may very well be similar to walking on a tightrope or having our every move scrutinized under a microscope. But that is how things are and, by now, we should have learned to live with that reality. It may seem unfair to those who consider themselves too far removed from the scandal to be judged for something they had nothing to do with. But this is a self-centered view of how each of us fits into the scheme of things.

Each member and staff of the Court of Appeals, from the rank- and-file up to the Presiding Justice, is a vital part of the whole. It follows, therefore, that we share a collective responsibility to the public. Aside from our duty to perform our jobs in the Court, we have an obligation to maintain the integrity and independence of the institution we represent. Knowing this, our actions must, at all times, be guided by the awareness that we and the institution we stand for will be judged by what we do.




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