The Center for International Law, a civil society organization that promotes the binding nature of international law in the Philippines and in Southeast Asia, with support of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, has been holding a three-day Manila summit on Judicial Integrity and Accountability.
Keynote speaker was Justice Michael Kirby of the Australian High Court, the highest court there, who discussed the Bangalore principles on Judicial Integrity. These principles include, among others, independence, integrity, and probity of judges.
I then delivered a paper on lessons learned from the conviction of former Chief Justice Renato Corona. For the first time, I divulged that the decision to impeach and convict Corona was an order emanating from President Benigno Aquino III after he suffered a string of losses before the Supreme Court. This decision came after his initial position that despite Corona accepting an unconstitutional appointment as Chief Justice from President Gloria Arroyo that he would work with him in order to prevent a “constitutional crisis”.
I divulged for the first time a telephone conversation I had with PNoy in relation with the plagiarism of Justice Mariano Del Castillo when PNoy, before his string of losses, rejected my suggestion to support the impeachment of Del Castillo precisely to avoid a “constitutional crisis”. Obviously, such a concern was jettisoned a year into his administration when the Supreme Court declared the Truth Commission and other policy initiatives of PNoy as being unconstitutional. While I argued that Corona’s conviction for failure to declare $10 million was indeed a legal ground to remove him from office, the motivation for his ouster was nonetheless to undermine the independence of the Supreme Court.
DCA Raul Villanueva, for his part, announced that the Sereno Court was serious in purging misfits from the ranks of the Judiciary as exemplified by the removal of Sandiganbayan Justice Gregory Ong because of his dealings with PDAF queen Janet Lim Napoles. He underscored that this seriousness is why the Court did not require direct evidence of malfeasance before dismissing a judge.
Yesterday Marites Vitug talked about her book “Shadow of Doubt” and expressed the hope that the Supreme Court would be more transparent in its dealings with the public.
She noted that the Court has refused to disclose the SALNs of the Gods of Padre Faura, even if it has authorized the relapse of the SALNs of the Sandiganbayan justices. She also noted that there were no statistics available on the caseload of the Justices so that the public can know who among them comply with the time frames required by the Constitution to resolve pending cases before them.
After Marites, Dr Ana Maria Tabunda of Pulse Asia discussed the public perception of corruption in the Philippines. According to her, there is a slight decrease in the number of respondents saying they have had experience with corruption, from 29 percent to 14 percent from 2003 to 2009. However, 81% of those who said yes said they did nothing about it. The good news though is that 70% of the respondents said that they did not see corruption as in any way justified.
Most interesting in the Pulse Asia Survey report was the fact that PNoy’s flirting with a second term through a constitutional change was responsible for the public’s rejection of the “Daang Matuwid” slogan of this administration. According to her, the slogan would be a kiss of death in 2016 because the very floating of a second term for PNoy was seen by the public as a betrayal of the promise to pursue the right path.
Having been an academic for the past 15 years and after attending at least a hundred conferences, I have to say that this summit on Judicial Integrity and Accountability has been one of the very best conferences that I have been to. The only regret I have is that the Supreme Court rejected our invitation to be a partner of this conference. It would have greatly beneficial to our Judges and Justices to have heard he insights of the world’s most respected Jurists who also include Dato Param of Malaysia, the UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges for whom the International Court of Justice rendered an advisory opinion that UN Rapporteurs enjoy functional immunity. This was an advisory opinion after Malaysian Premier Mahathir sued Dato Param for libel after he called the Malaysian judiciary “corrupt”.
Oh well, maybe soon, we will have a more transparent and more open Judiciary.
Justice Kirby took time out to do a side lecture at the UP College of Law on “marriage equality”. J. Kirby is an openly gay man who has been in a relationship with the same man for the past 45 years. It was his learned opinion that love is personal and that at some point, jurisdictions such as the Philippines and Australia, both of which do not recognize same-sex unions, would. A majority of the students present voted that the Philippines would eventually allow same-sex unions.
This post first appeared in http://manilastandardtoday.com/2014/12/05/manila-summit/.