SUPREME COURT Associate Justice Teresita De Castro defended the Supreme Court’s policy on the release of asset data records, even as she stressed that court officers were not hiding anything from the public.
Appearing as the 15th nominee to be publicly grilled by the Judicial and Bar Council on Thursday afternoon, De Castro is one of 22 aspirants for the post of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, in place of impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Asked by JBC members why the Supreme Court appeared hesitant to make public the SALNs of the sitting Justices, De Castro said there was no such hesitance. She said the Supreme Court Justices were merely following guidelines on the release of SALNs as laid down by the previous courts.
“When we were appointed to the Supreme Court, there was already that old guideline. We just followed the guideline,” she told the JBC.
De Castro was apparently referring to the ruling by the court of former Chief Justice Andres Narvasa that ruled that asset data records of court officials and employees may not be made public allegedly because of fears of harassment by litigants.
De Castro echoed the arguments of the Narvasa court, saying: “The court was worried about harassment being done to the Justices by disgruntled parties.”
“Now, in the spirit of transparency, that was a long time ago, and many things have changed since then,” De Castro said. “There is greater demand now for transparency and accountability, so I believe we should give in to the popular demand and lay everything out. Anyway we are not hiding anything from the public.”
De Castro said that if chosen as the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, she would work for improving case adjudication and solve the congestion in the court dockets. She said the clogging of the court dockets was already a major problem when she was a young lawyer in the 70s, and it remains a major problem until now.
De Castro said the court may review the rules of procedure to see how to further streamline processes. Another option would be to encourage the use of what she called alternative dispute mechanisms so that more litigants could reach out of cour settlements instead of going to court all the way.
For his part, former Ateneo Law School Dean Cesar Villanueva said he would not consider himself as an outsider if he is appointed Chief Justice, as he is already familiar with many of the sitting Associate Justices because of his work as a Dean, a law professor, and a book writer. In fact, two of the JBC members on the panel disclosed that they were former students of Villanueva.
Villanueva said he thinks that this could be his strong point, as he could bring a fresh breath of air into the court while at the same time not alienating the Justices.
“The vacancy that has been created by the impaechment has pitted three institutions against one another. Perhaps getting an outsider to work with the current justices is what the Supreme Court needs now, especially an outsider who is not a stranger, who can relate to them (Justices,” he said.