Calling a spade
Business World, 22 February 2012

PNoy wants to reform the Judiciary. Renato Corona is the face of what is wrong with it. Therefore, he (Corona) must go. At least, that is the gist of the President’s recent pronouncements on the matter. As I wrote last week in this column, these pronouncements do not seem to match what is in his 16-point Social Contract with the Filipino People — at least not with regard to his first point, which was to transform the leadership “From a President who tolerates corruption to a President who is the first and most determined fighter of corruption.”

Each of the 16 points in the Social Contract is accompanied by “action plans” — lists of the promises PNoy made during his presidential campaign, and conveniently arranged according to each of these points by the media (e.g. ABS-CBN Aquino Promises Tracker) and a couple of Web sites (Campaign Promises Checklist of the ProPinoy Project, the AntiPinoy Noynoy-Truth-O-Meter).

As I said last week, none of the 10 action plans listed under “Corruption Fighter” point (Point 1) even hint at the necessity to remove Corona or any Supreme Court justice from office. But it turns out that there is a section on the justice system, including the Judiciary: Point 5 of the Social Contract, which has anywhere from nine to 14 action plans under it (depending on who is doing the classification of the campaign promises), is devoted to the administration of justice, to wit: “5. From justice that money and connections can buy… to a truly impartial system of institutions that deliver equal justice to rich or poor.”

Let us, therefore, look at what PNoy intended to do in this connection. And so everyone can do the analysis on their own, let us reproduce at least the list of the list of action plans concerning the judiciary (the justice system also includes the police, the prosecutors and the penal system):

“5.1 If the post remains vacant, the appointment of a credible, efficient and fair Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

“5.2 Convene the Judicial Executive Legislative Advisory and Consultative Council (JELACC) as the springboard for the review of the state of the justice system and the possible areas for budgetary as well as administrative support within the first 100 days of the Aquino presidency, and utilize this council for the submission of a justice modernization budget to be included in the first State of the Nation address (SONA) agenda.

“5.3 Expedite the appointment of judges and prosecutors based on a system of meritocracy and fitness for the job, and work on all pending appointments to these important posts.

“5.11 Double the budget of the Judiciary to enable it to pursue its reform program and deliver justice for all”

Look at 5.1, again, Reader. PNoy talks about the appointment of a credible, efficient and fair Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines — but only “if the post remains vacant.” No mention that he is going to go all out to have it vacated, one way or another, if it is not.

Now turn to 5.2, where PNoy said he would convene the JELACC within the first 100 days of the Aquino presidency, etc., particularly in order to work out a justice modernization plan and budget. He never did. In fact, four months ago (after 15 months in office), his spokesperson said that there really was no need to do so, even if the brickbats were already flying between the two branches of government.

With respect to 5.3, I checked the Web site of the Judicial and Bar Council: the latest figures show that in Metro Manila, there are 83 vacancies in the Regional Trial Courts, while in the rest of the country, there are another 72 vacancies. And as far as prosecutors are concerned (which is under the DoJ), while 1,000 new prosecutorial positions were supposed to have been created, these have yet to be filled because there is difficulty filling up something like 200-300 vacancies from the existing plantilla.

In other words, no expediting seems to have taken place. And when one considers, for example, that the average caseload per RTC judge is close to 700 cases a year, and that the case backlog at the RTC level is on the order of 556,000 cases, one realizes why it is crucial to fill the positions.

And the issue of meritocracy and fitness for the job of his appointees is still very much an open question — his record is just too erratic.

While the first three action plans above were considered commitments for the short term, 5.11 is classified as a medium-term to long-term action plan. Considering that PNoy’s term is six years, it is reasonable to assume that the short-term would be his first one-and-a-half to two years, the medium term would be his third and fourth years in office, and the long term would be his last two years.

Has PNoy been keeping up with his commitment to “double the budget of the Judiciary… justice for all?” Not so anyone would notice. If one recalls, the newspapers even reported that the 2011 Judiciary budget had been cut. This was inaccurate. What happened was that the 2011 budget request of the Judiciary was not granted. But the budget allotted to them for 2011 was (if I can recall correctly) was greater than the 2010 amount — by something like 6%. But even if it had been 10% more, clearly there will be no way, at the same rate, that the Judiciary’s budget will be doubled by the time PNoy leaves office.

Bottom line: Does that sound like what is wrong with the Judiciary (at least as far as PNoy’s Social Contract with us is concerned) can be solved by the removal from office of the Chief Justice? Is it a necessary condition? Is it a sufficient condition? Judge for yourselves.