The week-long interviews of 20 or so bets for the vacant post of Chief Justice at the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) offered many a rare insight into the Supreme Court (SC), the only branch of government which is mostly secluded to the eyes of the public due to the nature of the job of the justices which is to render impartial decisions on cases present before it.
The immediate impression created in the temporary opening of the SC portal to the public eye was an institution buried in a mountain of backlogs that, in turn, is one of the factors that created the impression of an inefficient and corrupt justice system in the country.
The weaknesses of the judiciary seemed to have stemmed from that daunting problem of too many cases amid too few judges and public court officials. One of the Associate Justices interviewed said court cases are delayed mostly because of factors beyond the control of the higher courts such as the absence of lower court judges or even the failure of public lawyers to attend hearings.
The problem stemmed not only from the lack of funds but it seems from the system itself that encourages corruption with cases lasting years to resolve.
The ideas proposed were as many as the problems that the courts are facing and it seems that the key would be a strong leadership in the Judiciary, one which will not hesitate in introducing radical solutions but at the same time is not predisposed to political influence.
Political bias going into court decisions become part of jurisprudence and introduces more disputes later on that adds to the piling up of unresolved court cases.
Another key problem brought out in the interviews in relation to the process of choosing the new SC is the line of succession which the magistrates said was already ingrained in the local court system as a tradition.
This is more understandable, given the fact that the post being offered at this time is the highest post in the judiciary, and not just the post of an associate justice.
An outsider may well be welcomed by the crop of SC justices, as long as that new justice comes in as an associate justice, giving him all the time to learn the ropes, and become a true insider.
But to appoint an outsider to the high post will certainly not just demoralize the court but also bring about disharmony as the outsider CJ will hardly be held in esteem, and while it may never be admitted publicly by the present crop of Justices in the high court, he would be looked upon as an inferior.
Among the senior justices, the aversion to the appointment of an “outsider” was more pronounced based on the questioning of the JBC panelists and the replies given by the candidates among the SC justices.
The appointment of an outsider or even the bypass of the more senior members of the court, despite the denials, will give rise to a new form of conflict that may take longer to heal than that which was created by the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
The perception of an outsider or a less senior justice appointed as SC head being at the beck and call of Noynoy also would not help in raising hopes of an improved judiciary.
It seems that the problems of the judiciary were far from solved and, instead, have become more pronounced after Corona’s ouster.
Harmony within government is seen unattainable under a leadership that thrives on conflict.