CO-EQUAL branches. Not one above the other. The Executive Branch headed by the President and all its instrumentalities must always remember said principle at all times. Otherwise, as my late father’s expression goes, “this country is going to the dogs.”
The virtual world has spotlighted numerous flaws in our systems that require a closer look. Every citizen now has the power to scrutinize every event that happens in the country, from the grandest to the most trivial. So finally, the Supreme Court of the Philippines sitting en banc or all of its fifteen member justices has issued on March 23 a strong statement in response to calls for action on the killings of lawyers and threats to judges.
The statement has two parts. One the said Court’s stand on the issue and second, what it commits to do and prescribes stakeholders to undertake. In this two-part piece, I will initially share the first part. Here is the full transcript:
“The Judiciary is one of the three pillars of our republican democracy which itself hangs on a careful balance between and among governmental powers. To threaten our judges and lawyers is no less than an assault on the judiciary. To assault the judiciary is to shake the very bedrock on which the Rule of Law stands. This cannot be allowed in a civilized society like ours. This cannot go undenounced on the Court’s watch.
"The Supreme Court is mindful that nothing prevents it from standing by all court officers, judges and lawyers alike as it now does in no uncertain terms. This principle is not now in debate but has remained fix on administering justice amid a history of shifting social and political tides.
"Every threat to a lawyer or to a judge that prevents them from exercising their official functions has very serious repercussions on the idea that the Rule of Law must be accessible in an impartial and transparent manner to all parties. Every right guaranteed in the Constitution must be protected.
"We are all too aware that everything the Court stands for must bend in ensuring that all its officers can fairly and equitably dispense their duties within the legal system unbridled with the constant fear that such exercise may exact the highest cost.
In this light, the Court condemns in the strongest sense every instance where a lawyer or killed or where a judge is threatened or unfairly labeled. We do not and will not tolerate such acts that only perverse Justice, defeat the Rule of Law, undermine the most basic of Constitutional principles and speculate on the worth of human life.
"We acknowledge and share the legitimate concerns of the public, the profession, the judiciary as well as law enforcers and public servants in general. We are aware that there are wayward elements who in their seal to do what they think is necessary would simply brush aside what is stated in the law as mere obstacles. This should never be countenanced. For it is only in the enjoyment of our inalienable and indivisible rights that our freedoms become meaningful."
Next week, I shall share the recommendations and prescribed steps outlined by the Supreme Court in line with its statement. As a law professor, I help ingrain in our students the respect due to the Judiciary. Covered under the subject Legal and Judicial Ethics is learning about the Code of Judicial Conduct which is now based on the Bangalore Principles. In a Round Table Meeting of Chief Justices held at in Hague in November 2002, the Philippine Supreme Court was represented by the Chief Justice and Associate Justice Reynato Puno, the Bangalore Draft of the Code of Judicial Conduct adopted by the Judicial Group on Strengthening Judicial Integrity was deliberated upon and approved.
The Bangalore Draft is founded upon a universal recognition that a competent, independent and impartial judiciary is essential if the courts are to fulfill their role in upholding constitutionalism and the rule of law; that public confidence in the judicial system and the moral authority and integrity of the judiciary is of utmost importance in a modem democratic society; and, that it is essential that judges, individually and collectively, respect and honor judicial office as a public trust and strive to enhance and maintain confidence in the judicial system. As Filipinos, we need to protect institutions that protect our rights.