THE LEGAL FRONT
By JUSTICE ART D. BRION (RET.)
We are a problem-plagued country. The simple task of preparing for the day is complicated in many localities by the lack of water. The abundant water we know only comes from typhoons that, according to the water concessionaries, still cannot fill up our reservoirs but are nevertheless flooding our streets.
Going to work is further complicated by vehicular traffic and the number of vehicles that our road system appears incapable of supporting. Driving through traffic is like an obstacle course; “every man for himself” is the predominant rule. Traffic signs are read as permissive, particularly by pedestrians who use the shortest distance in mindlessly crossing streets; motorcycles weave in and out of the traffic, oblivious of the traffic lights.
Reading the newspapers only worsens the physical agonies of the regular day; the leading news dwell on the antics of the quarreling politicians whose main concern, it seems, is to hog the headlines with their motherhood statements. People react by refusing to read the news, thus effectively trivializing even important national concerns.
Based on news reports, murder, perpetrated by motorcycle-riding killers, is no longer unusual; it is now a solution of choice even for private disputes. Criminals are no longer afraid of the law – a sad statement on the values of our times and the effectiveness of our law enforcement and judicial institutions.
There, too, is the question of whether or not to believe what the newspapers carry as news: whether a report is truthful is always a back-of-the-mind question.
Underlying all these everyday problems are our deeper problems, among them, our uncontrolled population growth; the consequent widespread poverty; our demonstrated lack of discipline as a people and the lack of individual and collective will to help in resolving our problems; the pervasive presence of corruption; and the inadequacy of our politics-based governance system and its approaches.
To be sure, over the years, we have not been remiss in applying solutions; every new administration has its version of what to do and how to bring the country to progress and prosperity.
The sad reality, though, is that we have consistently failed and even appear to have retrogressed if our neighboring countries are to be our comparative standards.
We are now the laggards in our part of the world, way behind our surrounding neighbors – Japan, China, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Thailand, and Malaysia. Developing technology and industrialization appear to have passed us by. Even Vietnam, devastated by war as late as 1975, now appears to have overtaken us in development and industrialization. Our surest and biggest export earners are solely our people – the OFWs who work overseas and who send their earnings home.
In sum, we have been on a treadmill all these years – struggling and taking a lot of steps every day, seemingly going to a specific direction, but without managing to budge from where we are.
We cannot remain this way if this country is to survive. We need collective will and a purposive approach to get us out of our present rut. One way – when obvious and traditional methods fail – is through out-of-the-box approaches that should be there for us if we will only we look for them.
I shall cite the Judiciary as example in this discussion as it is ripe and ready for this approach.
Every chief justice, upon assumption to office, lists the problem he/she sees and comes up with a program to resolve them.
Consistent in the listing is the courts’ mounting docket of unresolved cases and the problem of delay in the delivery of justice. Less prominent but more important than delay is the problem of corruption whose effect is the denial of justice.
A bedeviling question is – what approach can the court use for more effective solutions as cases have been mounting without fail year after year?
Of course, solutions to specific and situational problems are for the incumbent justices, not for outsiders, to ponder upon and resolve. I venture my opinions only in terms of the approaches that the Supreme Court can take for solutions with more and bigger promise of effectiveness.
I am encouraged to do this because of the recent out-of-the-box approach that I saw under former Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin who dealt with the issue of legal education by calling a Legal Education Summit participated in by judicial officials, academics, students, and interested lay people.
The former CJ’s approach is out-of-the box as the judiciary, in the past, has always zealously guarded the exercise of its powers in the name of judicial independence. The court has always resolved its problems within closed walls and only with the help of a few chosen specialists. CJ Bersamin’s Legal Summit opened up the Court’s doors to laymen and outsiders who wanted to contribute their views and suggestions.
An eminent candidate for an out-of-the-box approach is clogged dockets because clogging can arise from various causes or sources. The problem is not only in the magistrates’ speed in resolving cases. It lies as well in the volume of cases coming in from litigants. The manner of handling cases also causes delay.
Based on this perspective, causes other than the rate of disposition of cases can be explored at both the experts’ and laymen’s levels for a wider and more thorough view, without intruding into judicial independence.
If this is so, why not call a similar summit that would involve the active participation of all sectors within and those interacting with the judiciary, among them, the judges, the courts’ support staff, the Integrated Bar, representatives of the executive and legislative branches, the legal academe, students, and interested members of the public?
To be truly open, why not also have an Internet conversation with the public on clogged dockets and delay, using a dedicated and publicized website that everyone can use to express their views and suggestions?
For lack of space, I shall explore the out-of-the-box concept itself and other ideas in my next articles. Interested readers meanwhile can react through the email address below. I shall forward their reactions to the Supreme Court.