Issue of March 4, 2018
Mt. Province

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SC chief justice calls for judicial freedom
by Hanna C. Lacsamana

ROCKSTAR -- Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno rocked the house with throngs of people wanting to have snapshots with her after her talk on judicial reforms before a crowd of legal luminaries and students at the University of Baguio on March 2.
-- Harley Palangchao

Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has assured Baguio citizens that the High Tribunal is doing its best to bring reforms in the judiciary, as she appealed for public support in keeping the independence of the judicial system in the country.

In her fighting form in the light of one of the most trying periods of her term as the highest magistrate, Sereno addressed an audience of lawyers, law faculty and students, and residents at the University of Baguio gym on Friday to talk on the game-changing developments in the judiciary and how these have and would set higher the standard of public service.

She related the paradigm shift in the call for an independent judiciary – one that is free from undue influence, pressure, and intimidation.

Among the reforms she mentioned is reducing operational barriers that make justice difficult to obtain, expansion of small claims courts, and continuous trial of criminal cases, which allows conduct of trial with hearings set one day apart where dilatory postponements are not allowed and promulgation of decisions does not exceed 90 days. 

She added that filing of cases in the future will already be through the mobile system, digitalized and online, where status and updates on cases can be accessed and viewed online through the enterprise information systems plan.

A number of courts are now also operating through automated hearings, which allows every activity during trial to be captured electronically in real time by interlinking the computers of the judge, stenographer, and interpreters.

“The reforms we have undertaken and undertaking are steered by a deep empathy with marginalized Filipinos who feel that the justice system is rigged against them. We have taken a philosophical shift in recognizing the need for greater access to justice for people,” Sereno said.

She said the magistrates want to strengthen the institution to enhance how people experience justice, one that is not fleeting and with stability and strength to stand time.

“Ultimately, among all the benefits these judicial reforms could deliver, what fuels the flame is our collective aspiration not only for our courts ready to face the challenges of the times, but more importantly, for an independent judiciary capable of protecting space among democratic institutions.

In the same manner when one’s personal space must not be unduly crowded, we must fight for the space of the judiciary to be not unduly crowded by other interests as well,” the Chief Justice said.

She said judicial independence could only be derived when courts are allowed to exercise its constitutional mandate free from undue influence, pressure, and intimidation.

“It is independent when it is able to give opposing party opportunity to present their side without preconceived bias. When it is able to evaluate pieces of evidence, the courts – untampered and duly preserved – our judges must be able to render their judgment without fear of reprisal of any kind, simply because the parties to lose are not happy with the decision.”

She added that a truly independent judiciary would ultimately redound not just to the benefit of the judges themselves, but also to the benefit of the Filipino people. It operates within a system that guarantees that no person should be unfairly accused on the streets as in other podium.

Ang tanging institusyon na kayang magbigay ng karapatan na mapangalagaan ang karapatan ng bawat tao na marinig ay ang hudikatura. Ito ay kayang magsiguro na ang bawat tao na pumunta sa korte ay hindi mahuhusgahan bago man lamang marinig,” she said.

She said judicial independence will empower courts “to discern truth from lie, right from wrong, legitimate accusations from harassment or persecution.”

Sereno asked the public to help the judiciary. “Kung sa tingin ninyo ay maikli ang kamay ng hustisya, please do not limit the reach of the law by inaction or worse not saying anything,” she said.

The Chief Justice is currently being investigated by the House Committee on Justice for betrayal of public trust. As she took an indefinite leave of office, she challenged the House of Representatives to submit her impeachment case to the Senate for trial or admit there is no probable cause.

“I don’t owe anyone the duty to resign. I will account my action to the people. I owe people the duty tell my story,” she said.

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