THE justice system in the Philippines is in shambles.
The highest court of the land, the Supreme Court, is muddled in a battle royale between Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and the associate justices who have taken offense at her appointment from day one. They were quiet then, but when President Rodrigo Duterte took his oath of office, Sereno became fair game, as she was an appointee of former president Noynoy Aquino.
It is obvious that partisan politics is one of the factors behind the impeachment complaint in Congress and the quo warranto petition against Sereno before the Supreme Court. If ousted, she will follow the fate of the late chief justice Renato Corona, who was impeached for failure to disclose his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth to the public.
Two ousted chief justices would not bode well of the Supreme Court, supposedly composed of men and women of integrity, good character, intelligence and sound judgment, among others.
It is no secret that the appointment of judges has much to do with politics as it is with the other requirements for the position. The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) recommends to the president possible nominees to the judiciary.
The JBC is the only constitutionally-created body that has members from all the three branches of government and its screening process is meant to ensure that the courts of law have competent and ethical magistrates. But the process is not fool-proof as time and again we have seen judges and justices who have been dismissed for misconduct and incompetence.
One judge once told me how he had to withdraw his first application with the JBC as the member from the legislature did not want the recommendation of a political opponent. When he re-applied, he was appointed to the Bench acknowledging the effort of his new patron. On his own merits that judge deserved his appointment.
An independent judiciary is important in a democratic form of government. Judges must be free from any inappropriate pressure. One possible pressure that judges encounter is when local executives set aside funds for their allowances. Another is when a politician makes a recommendation for a judge’s appointment.
If the JBC is to become a respectable institution worthy of recommending appointments to the judiciary, then it must make changes. For instance, the seat allocated for the member of the legislature should be abolished. Letters of recommendation from politicians should be disallowed. Only one name should be sent to the President for appointment to prevent lobbying.
There is urgency in reforming the system of appointing judges, as there is need for the justices of the Supreme Court to be respectful of their office.