by Karol Ilagan
AMID REPORTS of fellow justices giving her the cold shoulder, newly appointed Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes P.A. Sereno said that “dialogue” among members of the court is needed “to lead to significant changes in governance practices within the judiciary.”
Speaking at the Presidents of Law Associations in Asia conference on August 29 at the Manila Marriott Hotel in Pasay City, Sereno said she envisions reform in the Supreme Court that is “the product of a collective vision,” instead of one that is “dependent solely upon the personality of the Chief Justice.”
Roan Libarios, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) which hosted the event, acknowledged Sereno’s pronouncements stressing that the Supreme Court, including the senior justices, is undergoing a period of adjustment.
“Kailangan ‘yung bagong CJ, siya ang magreach out. Dapat abutin niya, magreach out siya sa kasamahan, ipakita niya ang liderato na may patience, humility (The new Chief Justice must reach out and show leadership with patience and humility), Libarios said. With Sereno at the helm, he adds that what’s ultimately important are the reforms and the type of judiciary that will be created.
In her very first speaking engagement as chief justice, Sereno said that the judiciary has to undergo “a process of redefining itself” in order to become a judiciary that is responsive to the needs of an evolving society. Among the questions posed by Sereno is how the judiciary should define itself with the increasing demand for transparency when it is, according to her and by constitutional definition, “required to be removed from the passion of politics and the intense discussion on the shaping of society.”
On August 27, Sereno said in her first official statement that she has decided to decline all requests for media interviews in order to bring the court back to its “days of dignified silence – when its justices were heard thru their writings, and when the actions of the Court were best seen in their collective resolutions.”
IBP’s Libarios said this has been a tradition in the Supreme Court because Chief Justices are not a public commodity. “They are not politicians; they are rather read than heard of. This is why spokespersons are appointed. Dapat maintindihan ng taumbayan ang korte through the decisions rendered by justices.” he said.
But the IBP president said the Supreme Court should have a “face.” “Palagay ko, kailangan pa rin minsan humarap ng ating Chief Justice… kapag mga policy announcement, decision, policy declaration… baka kelangan niyang magsalita. Kailangan balansihin ‘yung need for public information at saka ‘yung need ng dignified silence ng ating Korte Suprema (The Chief Justice still needs to appear and be heard… when there are policy announcements, decisions, policy declarations, she would probably need to speak. There should be balance between the need for public information and the need for ‘dignified silence’ within the Supreme Court).”
As for specific reforms, Sereno envisions an eco-friendly and tech-savvy court that she hopes would result to better services. In particular, she says solutions must be devised to improve the case load of judges.
“We have to rethink our paper-based system and usher in a judicial system that is less paper dependent. We have to do our share in minimizing the trees cut down with more paper in demand,” she said.
As well, Sereno said the courts need to think of its internal communication and external relations strategies. “The environment and technological changes are taking place fast. We in the judiciary also have to move fast to improve the delivery of service in the context of the changing environment,” she said.