Views from the Ridge
When I applied for appointment as Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals more than 20 years ago, the Pre-Judicature Program (or PJP) was already in place. Nobody was certain then, however, whether it was a requirement for appointment. As a lawyer, I read the law (in particular, R.A. 8557) and even then concluded that I had to undergo the process. My law school classmate, then SC AJ Renato C. Corona (later Chief Justice), himself advised me that I should enroll and pass the PJP. It is a good introduction to the judiciary, he said, mindful that I was then occupying an Executive branch position as Undersecretary of the DOLE.
I did not find the 2000 PJP version a new experience; it was simply an intensive but abbreviated repeat of the Bar review and the Bar exams. Participants listened to speakers the whole day and participated in some discussions, daily for three weeks, and thereafter were tested.
The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) nominated me and I was thereafter appointed an Associate Justice of the CA. The PJP though was never raised as a requirement when I filed my application with the JBC. But I was glad that I underwent the process as appellate court adjudication was far different from my previous law practice and sub-cabinet experiences.
CA procedures during my time were uneven and were not meticulously followed. Some CA Division chairs called for meetings to deliberate on cases; others did not, and we were left on our own. I simply returned the ponencias that I did not agree with, and accordingly heard the pejorative comment that we did not need to be very strict as “may appeal naman sa SC.”
Fortunately, I encountered very good CA mentors – CA Justice Josefina “Baby” Guevarra-Salonga and CA Justice Salvador Valdez, Jr. – no-nonsense justices who asked me to study everything carefully, particularly the seemingly innocuous requests for TROs. They were the mentors who opened my eyes to many judicial realities that, to me at that time, were simply legal concepts found in the law books.
When I applied for the Supreme Court in 2006, no established rule was still in place on the mandatory character of the PJP, although it was more or less a given that one had to undergo the PJP preparatory to the intensive interview that the JBC already conducted. On my third application attempt in 2008, I succeeded and was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
The Supreme Court was an altogether different experience from what I had previously experienced at the CA. This was during the term of Chief Justice Reynato Puno. En banc deliberations were intense, and required research, preparation and study more rigid than those I had previously experienced. I had to mind, not only my own ponencias, but those of others which were all closely examined and passed upon.
I particularly noted that most justices came to the en banc and the division deliberations fully prepared: questions, dissents and contrary views were not unusual, and exchanges were serious and, many times, in-depth. It was only then that I fully appreciated the need for special training for the appellate courts, especially for the SC; it was not enough that I had engaged in private law practice and had been a cabinet member. Many times at the beginning, it was a case of self-learning for me in unfamiliar areas of law – the lesson and discipline that Philja is now injecting into its new PJP.
The PJP was not formally recognized by the JBC until May 2020 when it issued JBC Resolution No. 2020-01, the 2020 Revised Rules of the Judicial and Bar Council.This Resolution provides the Guidelines in Determining Competence of applicants to the judiciary by stating that the JBC shall consider, among several factors, “other relevant accomplishments, such as, the performance in the Prejudicature Program of the Philippine Judicial Academy” (Rule 3, Section 1). But even this recognition was couched in language that did not fully acknowledge the full breadth and utility of the statutory role of Philja and the PJP.
In my exchanges with Justice “Bambit” Mendoza who sits in the JBC as the executive committee chair, we discussed and agreed that the PJP assessment methodology entirely falls within PhilJA’s discretion. Assessment results shall be in terms of absolute measures, given in percentiles, with qualitative description of the assessments made, plus explanations that Philja shall communicate to JBC if so required. Philja shall rate PJP applicants based on the express constitutional standards of “competence, probity, integrity and independence,” pegged on the knowledge, skills and ethical values that every magistrate should possess upon entry to or promotion within the judiciary.
We clearly understood too that the PJP is purely an assessment, not a training exercise. While Philja may impart new knowledge and information, these only serve as take-off points to fully assess the applicants’ compliance with the required knowledge, skills and ethical values that every magistrate should possess when they apply for entry or promotion. The required training for the newly appointed magistrates shall take place before they assume office and in the course of service, in accordance with Philja’s traditional mandate.
We likewise agreed that the JBC shall decide what weight to give to Philja’s submitted PJP results. Philja only vouches for the integrity of its PJP results and has nothing to do with the JBC’s exercise of discretion in determining its short list of recommendees.
More on the new PJP in Part III of this series. In light of my recent resignation as Philja chancellor, this series shall continue under my old column – The Legal Front.