THE Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) was purposely created by the 1987 Constitution to depoliticize and to open up to the citizens the screening of nominees and appointments to the judiciary.
To achieve this, Associate Professor Dante B. Gatmaytan of the University of the Philippines College of Law says the JBC should have looked with favor at full transparency – in the conduct of its processes and in the handling of all its records – as both premise and armor of its grave mandate.
MOSTLY old, mostly male, mostly born and bred in imperious Luzon and all schooled in imperial Manila. Two in every three were jurists and bureaucrats in their previous lives, and thus, also mostly creatures of habit and routine. In the last 20 years, while 15 of the 80 nominees were female, only three women were eventually appointed.
This seemingly impregnable enclave of the elite is actually the Philippine Supreme Court, the most majestic of all the country’s courts, the final arbiter of constitutional questions, and “the last bulwark of democracy” in the land.
DRIFT and confusion. Some pockets of transparency but most everywhere, a predilection for opaqueness and more barriers to access in place. This is the access to information regime that lingers in the Philippines nearly a year after Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III came to power on a “Social Contract with the Filipino People,” which he said would be defined by transparency, accountability, and good governance.
But a seven-month PCIJ audit of how 27 national agencies deal with access to information requests shows spotty proof of Aquino’s recipe for good governance in the processes and practices of these agencies. While a few stand out as exemplars of transparency, the majority remain stuck in the old ways of opaque government, with some even sliding back into darker corners.
WHO has been jailed for corruption in this country?
In its search for answers, the Philippine Threshold Program launched a study on “Time Served for Corruption” covering 118 cases from 2001 to 2008 of public officials who had been prosecuted by the Ombudsman, convicted by the Sandiganbayan, and sent to jail after the Supreme Court upheld their convictions.
Over three-fourths or 93 of the cases were in different stages of execution proceedings. The small balance of 25 individuals had been served court orders committing them to prison, but nearly half or 11 had been pardoned by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
In short, less than one in every 10 persons convicted of corruption since 2001 has actually been jailed.
Ombudsman Ma. Merceditas N. Gutierrez has repeatedly cited a lack of funds, lawyers, and even time in the face of her Office’s progressively increasing caseload. She also points to these impediments whenever she rails against what she refers to as “recycled criticisms” that have painted her and the agency she heads as prone to bias and inefficiency, among other things.
But more than just the supposed lack of funds, donor assessment reports show that the stunningly effete record of the Ombudsman’s Office under Gutierrez is the result largely of her own failure as leader and manager.
In fact, far from a pittance, lots of money from foreign donor and the national budget have been the exceptional privilege of the Office of the Ombudsman since Gutierrez assumed her position on December 1, 2005. In the last five years thus, Gutierrez has not been lacking in funds, and has enjoyed access to more money than any of her three predecessors combined, and could afford to hire more than double the number of personnel they had been allowed to get.
NUMBERS – people, cases, funds – are a messy, maddening mix in the courts. The numbers defy all myth and romance about the majesty and dread that literature ascribes to the men and women in robes, and indications are they pose a perpetual challenge for the administrators of the country’s judicial system.
Indeed, attempts of the judiciary to keep a firm grip on its budget and fiscal processes alone have already triggered periodic delays in completing audit reports, as well as caused recurring disputes on compliance with budget circulars that should apply across the bureaucracy.
AMID the relentless reticence of the justices of the Supreme Court to publicly disclose their statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN), the PCIJ launched a research into what could be their business interests and financial holdings by mining public records.
Our first stop was the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), where we found various companies listing the names of various justices as either incorporators, stockholders or board members. To verify the list, the PCIJ gathered the latest Articles of Incorporation, General Information Sheets, and Financial Statements of these companies.
GOOD GOVERNANCE is the solemn promise of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III. Transparency and respect for access to information could enable it; the rule of law, or the prosecution of cases built on evidence before the courts, could assure it endures.
In President Aquino’s epic effort to rid the government of corruption, the judiciary will perform the critical role of arbiter, judge, and guardian. Yet the judiciary itself is nurturing a black hole of information, which could swallow into nothingness initiatives to limit, if not stop, corruption.
SIX MONTHS AGO, the PCIJ filed a 19-page pleading with the Supreme Court requesting copies of the statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN) and personal data sheets (PDS) of the 15 justices of the high tribunal.
The pleading caps four years of a testy tug-o-war for copies of the justices’ SALNs between the PCIJ and the high court, the last bulwark of democracy and the arbiter of constitutional questions in the land.