Advancing judicial reform

Published August 26, 2021, 6:00 AM

by J. Albert Gamboa

Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo recently met with the private sector led by the Judicial Reform Initiative (JRI), an umbrella organization composed of major business associations, foreign chambers of commerce, and judicial advocacy groups that promote the advancement of the rule of law, sustainable economic growth, global competitiveness, and socio-economic justice.

Among the JRI’s member organizations are the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, the Management Association of the Philippines, the Makati Business Club, the Institute of Corporate Directors, the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, and the Rotary Club of Manila. Most of them were signatories to the joint statement of the business community upholding the independence of the Commission on Audit.

During the JRI officials’ virtual courtesy call on the newly installed Chief Justice, he was joined by nine SC Associate Justices as well as other officers representing the Philippine Judicial Academy, the Office of the Court Administrator, and the Judicial Integrity Board. He discussed the SC’s five-year innovation roadmap to improve efficiency of the court system both in adjudication and administration.

One of the reforms being pursued by the country’s highest magistrate is the establishment of an information and communication technology infrastructure that will improve case management and court administration through the utilization of artificial intelligence for court operations. It may be recalled that during the term of former Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta, the JRI wrote an open letter focusing on the urgent need for the speedy disposition of cases.

Addressing this issue, the SC master plan provides for the resolution of cases within 24 months pursuant to the 1987 Constitution; assessment of the organizational and operational structure of the judiciary; creation of Judicial Region Court Administrators and Trial Court Managers; revision of the Rules of Court within a two-year time frame; and strengthening of recruitment for judicial posts. The latter will require attendance in the Pre-Judicature Program for first and second level court applicants, while appellate court applicants must attend the Advanced Pre-Judicature Program.

JRI Chair Sherisa Nuesa and President Jose Jerome Pascual III welcomed the SC’s comprehensive approach to enhance court productivity and alleviate docket congestion. They said the action programs demonstrate the serious commitment of the SC to speed up the delivery of justice, which should contribute to a positive economic climate and the attainment of related United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

On his part, Chief Justice Gesmundo expressed support for the JRI’s plans to hold a Justice Summit and publish an online infographic primer on the Philippine justice system over the next two years. As a very encouraging sign that he is a listening Chief Justice, he even mentioned a recent article that I wrote about the “looming judicial crisis” in the Philippines amid the high incidence of COVID-19 infections among judges, prosecutors, court employees, and public defenders.

One week after his meeting with the business leaders, the Chief Justice’s speech during the 120th founding anniversary of the High Court addressed this concern once again. He disclosed his issuance of several administrative orders related to the health and safety of lawyers and other judiciary stakeholders, such as the inclusion of court workers in the A4 priority group of the National Task Force Against COVID-19, and the opening of emergency care units at the SC compound in Manila and at the nearby De La Salle-College of St. Benilde that serve as isolation and quarantine facilities for court employees.

The high tribunal has also granted the requests of judges and court personnel to allow the conduct of remote videoconferencing court hearings, while it extended financial assistance to employees of first and second level courts who contracted COVID-19 and required in-patient care or hospital confinement.

With an innovative and reform-minded leader at its helm, the Philippine Judiciary is poised for a massive transformation into a modern public institution – at par with the world’s best in the 21st century.

J. Albert Gamboa is a Life Member of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX). He is the Editor-in-Chief of the quarterly FINEX Digest magazine and the monthly FINEX Focus newsletter. The opinion expressed herein does not necessarily reflect the views of these institutions and the Manila Bulletin.

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