Defining PhilJA

Published June 21, 2021, 12:06 AM

by Justice Art D. Brion (ret.)


J. Art D. Brion (Ret.)
Justice Arturo D. Brion, Chancellor, Philippine Judicial Academy

After my appointment as Chancellor of the Philippine Judicial Academy (PhilJA), friends called and texted me their congratulations.  Not a few boldly asked – what is PhilJA? Apparently, they were intrigued by the word “Academy” in PhilJA’s title; a few even suspected that I am once again a dean, but at a larger law school.

My first reply came negatively phrased. I told them what PhilJA is not.  It is not a law school; PhilJA deals with knowledge but it goes beyond the pure knowledge and reasoning ability that a law school aims to impart.  PhilJA also seeks to develop skills or the ability to apply knowledge and put it to good use.

Moreover, I told my friends that while PhilJA is a component unit of the Supreme Court (SC), it is not a court – it does not adjudicate actual disputes in the way that courts do; it does not resolve administrative complaints, a role that the Judicial Integrity Board (JIB) undertakes.

PhilJA does not also regulate in the way that the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) does. Lastly, it does not undertake the gatekeeping functions that Constitution vests in the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) with respect to appointments to the judiciary.

Stated plainly and simply, Philja is the component unit of the SC that takes care of the hearts and minds of the members of the Judiciary for the Court.

This answer, instead of enlightening my friends, actually left them more confused.  One boldly followed up – “and what business is it of a dispute-resolving Court to take care of hearts and minds?

Thus, I had to explain further, starting with the premise that the judiciary (that the SC leads) is the branch of government that is almost wholly founded on the people’s trust to effectively discharge its assigned role in the nation’s governmental scheme.

Our Constitution did not give the courts the authority to create and establish policy; Congress is assigned this task and the power to formulate and pass the laws containing our national policies. In so doing, the Constitution also gives Congress control over the funds of the nation.

The Executive, on the other hand, may initiate the call for desired policies, but its main role in the national scheme is to implement policies laid down by Congress; in the course of implementation, it also effectively formulates policies.  To enforce the laws, the Constitution has granted the executive branch control over the military and our peacekeepers.

As a primary mechanism to check on the exercise of their enormous powers, members of the legislative and of the executive branches are chosen through periodic elections. Thus, the people can directly and periodically remove them from office through the power of the ballot.

The judiciary, led by the SC, exercises none of the powers granted to the two other branches of government and is granted only “judicial power” – the authority to resolve actual disputes when they arise in the interpretation of the Constitution; in the implementation of our laws; and when any office or official of government grossly abuses its power or acts beyond the scope of its granted powers.

This judicial role is founded, and relies for its effectiveness in the national scheme as a counterbalance to the powers of the two other branches, on the people’s trust; our people leave it up to the judiciary to carry out its tasks – to speak out and to act intelligently, responsibly and humanely – when Congress, the President and any other government official act beyond the powers allowed them, and when the people harm each other’s interests through violation of our laws.

Thus, it is the courts – whose members the people cannot remove through elections – that the people must ultimately rely upon to ensure that their interests are protected under the Constitution and our laws.  Bluntly stated, remove the courts and the people would be helpless against predatory laws and implementing excesses.

From these perspectives, to maintain balance in our society and to keep it a harmoniously functioning whole, the judiciary must have the people’s trust. Trust, though, can neither be legislated nor simply forced upon people; the judiciary must earn the people’s trust.

People must believe and rely on their belief that the members of the judiciary are able, competent and can discharge their assigned tasks freely, independently and without bias nor any hint of partiality.  Removal of this element of trust could result in a dysfunctional society where people act on their own to redress their grievances against the government or against one another.

To earn this trust, justices, judges and court personnel must possess the heart and the mind that rise to the height of the judicial power granted to them. PhilJA is the component unit entrusted by the SC to strengthen the resolve within the judiciary to act knowledgeably, freely, independently and without any hint or suspicion of bias or partiality.

PhilJA’s defined means of carrying out this task, as Congress itself has laid down, is through the legal education and skills training that must be delivered competently, consistently and continually to reasonably ensure that the members of the judiciary do not deviate from their assigned role and limits.

PhilJA must ensure, through the limited means at its command – i.e., solely through legal education and skills training – that justice is neither delayed nor denied, and is delivered fairly and competently.

To achieve these, Philja must see to it that the knowledge competency of judges and justices, first earned through formal law school education, is continually kept up to date, and is properly and seasonably applied.

It falls upon PhilJA, too, to see to it that our justices and judges possess the guidance that would lead them to fair, impartial, humane and responsible rulings that our people look up to and expect.

All these require efforts and initiatives that will affect and influence the hearts and the minds of everyone in the judiciary. In this sense, the SC itself and through PhilJA, is in the “hearts and minds,” business.