New PJP: The assessment process

Published October 4, 2021, 12:05 AM

by Brion (ret.) Justice Art D.


Chancellor, Philja Justice Arturo D. Brion (Ret.)

In Parts I and II of this series under Philja’s column “Views from the Ridge,” I outlined the constitutional and statutory foundations and background of Philja’s new Pre-Judicature Program (PJP) – its contribution in assessing the qualifications of applicants to the judiciary based on the Constitution’s express requirements of competence, integrity, probity and independence.

I likewise mentioned that the discretion in choosing the applicants to be recommended to the President wholly belongs to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), not to Philja; the results of Philja’s new PJP is only one of the considerations the JBC may take into account.

In this last Part (Part III – A & B), I outline in very broad strokes the new PJP’s assessment and quantification process, hoping thereby to add new perspectives to the standards the Constitution imposes on the judiciary’s justices and judges.

Competence, integrity, probity and independence, to be sure, are high sounding terms that add an air of nobility to the judiciary. But scarcely hidden behind them is the nagging practical question: how are these traits to be determined and measured if they are to be applied to the appointment process?

This is not an idle question as indeed a good measure of abstraction underlies these terms. They assume specific meaning only within the context of their use – in the judiciary provisions of the Constitution. If indeed our judges and justices shall primarily perform the difficult and sensitive tasks of interpreting our basic law and resolving the disputes they occasion, they must truly be no less than what these traits describe.

How these traits can be gauged or measured is a big intervening question in light of Philja’s mandate under its charter, R.A. 8775, and the JBC’s own taskof preparing an exclusive list from which the appointing President can choose his appointee.

Should the JBC prepare its list based solely on oral interviews, or should it seriously look at Philja’s absolute measures? Or, should it use a good dose of both, fully realizing that the grant of discretion is never ever unlimited?

Philja dared to answer these questions, pegging its answers on the requirements of knowledge, skills and values that it has traditionally dealt with in providing legal education and training to justices and judges.

A basic Philja starting point is the reality that the applicants to judicial positions are full-pledged lawyers who have passed the Bar exams; have supposedly gained significant legal experience; and who now wish to be justices and judges.

Another Philja starting point is the premise that assessing the extent of the knowledge, skills and values that applicants possess cannot be a one-dimensional exam administered like the Bar exam, or a free-ranging interview that does not lead to any definitive conclusion or to any measure that can be the basis of comparison among several candidates vying for a few positions.

For an assessment to serve its purpose, it must firstly be designed as a measuring tool, not a legal education program for participants who need to be updated on the law. The simple but ultimate focus is to ask whether the participating applicants measure up to the requirements that every judge and justice should possess.

In testing for knowledge, for example, the program should not simply test the participants’ stock of knowledge as the Bar exams do for law students. It should test them using stock + new knowledge to determine, not solely the amount of their accumulated knowledge, but their capacity to absorb new knowledge and to later use these for judicial purposes.Philja decided, too, that written exams serve their purposes but these should be supplemented by actual interviews and inter-personal exchanges.

For these purposes, Philja decided to use five basic areas of law (criminal, civil, political, remedial and ethics/values) in asynchronous sessions, i.e. taped lectures that the participants are designed to study, understand, absorb, digest, analyze, and apply within a given period, in the way that judges in the bench would – individually, in their own time, pace and chosen intensity.