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Justice Artemio V. Panganibans Reforming the Judiciary: A Book Review

Reforming the Judiciary: A Book Review
by Justice Artemio V. Panganiban

Conversion is the order of the day - not because the Court has betrayed the trust the Republic has reposed in it, but because it dedicates itself to the unrelenting, unhesitating self-examination and self-scrutiny that will allow it to be worthy of the trust the public has and ought to have in it, the confidence that has merited for it accolades not only here but also abroad.

REFORM. Does the term not suggest that something is the matter, or worse, that things are really bad? This was the reason that for some time, there were misgivings about naming the project "judicial reform." Institutions after all are loathe to admit that they are in need of reform. But when one of the leading members of the High Court of the land itself boldly entitles his latest book “Reforming the Judiciary,” then reform might not be so bad a name after all.

One book a year and no cases left undecided. This is Mr. Justice Artemio V. Panganiban's unsurpassed record. It is also the best summation of judicial reform. Why should a justice of the Supreme Court endeavor to write one book a year? The author provides the most convincing answer. In Chapter 4, which is given the heading "Prerequisites for a Successful Reform Program," he writes: "Early on, however, we realized that the key to developing a sound reform program was the ability to distinguish fact from perception. Thus, we also conducted perception surveys that provided an impression of how judges, court personnel and external stakeholders viewed the gravity of the problems. From such surveys we likewise gauged the level of public confidence in the existing judicial system. Accordingly, we were able to ground the reform program on a realistic assessment of the facts that would make our project goals more viable and consequently enhance the public image of the judiciary." Establishing lines of communication between the courts and their stakeholders, both internal and external (and who, in this Republic, is not a stakeholder in the judiciary?), and keeping the lines open - this is what this book is all about. This is the tremendous service it does. Because one who sits on the Supreme Court itself reaches out to the public and through its pages gives them a feel of the rhythm of the Court's heart, the book bridges what would otherwise be a yawning abyss between Olympus and the dwelling-place of citizens.

A good part of the book is given to the "Action Program for Judicial Reform." It is a commitment of which Mr. Justice Panganiban can rightly be called a "founding father." Not only is he a member of the Committee that oversees the fruition of the program. He has also been its spokesperson. In his presentation during the round-table discussion on Philippine Judicial Reform held in Ottawa, Canada, on June 19, 2002, he summarized in ten points the dimensions of the reform program to which the Philippine judiciary has dedicated itself. Consistent with the philosophical tack he has always taken, the author examines the presuppositions and prerequisites of judicial reform with characteristic incisiveness.

If in last year's book, Mr. Justice Panganiban had a chapter on "E-values for Lawyers," this year he makes the very pointed and necessary assertion that "Good Governance Begins with Ethics." He identifies four "ins:" integrity, independence, intelligence and industry. These, for him, are the constituents of an ethical disposition and the beginning of all good governance. While the Supreme Court has been unrelenting and severe in dealing with judges' misdeeds, it has always preferred a more positive approach: leading by example and teaching by precept. This section of the author's book is one such attempt to remind judges what is expected of them. As importantly, however, it also informs the public of the standards judges go by, for it is important that citizens realize that judges' decisions and orders are crafted not principally to please, nor to win applause and approval, but to apply the law and to do justice as the law dictates. As a department chair of Criminal Law in the Philippine Judicial Academy, I was informed that once, Mr. Justice Panganiban clearly told the representatives of agencies that had offered assistance to judicial reform that while the Supreme Court could only welcome assistance, it would nevertheless do so discriminatingly, zealously guarding its independence.

One of Mr. Justice Panganiban's earlier books was simply titled "Transparency." He returns to the theme in Chapter 7 of the present book, and fittingly so, for it is to the passion for transparency that the author's one-book-a-year commitment may be ascribed. There can hardly be anything more helpful to the cause of transparency than keeping the public informed of the workings of the court, of its achievements, of the challenges that face it and, yes, even of its disappointments. Very interestingly, in this chapter, Justice Panganiban advances the thesis that transparency insofar as adjudication is concerned is the key to the acceptability of judgments by the public. This is a point of utmost importance. For members of the Bench, one's popular acceptability is not the crucial criterion. It is rather the result of transparency in the fair and impartial disposition of cases.

Many of the succeeding chapters are given to important cases decided by the Supreme Court with the author as ponente. Particularly interesting to the public will be Justice Panganiban's first-person account of the historic events leading to the assumption of the Presidency of the Republic by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. As one reads his account, one cannot but share in the tension of the hour - and realize what a crucial as well as delicate role the Supreme Court played. No one who has completed the chapter will be left unconvinced that "statesmanship" and patriotism of the highest order characterized the Court's deportment in that determinative moment of Philippine history.

Justice Panganiban's separate concurring opinion on the constitutionality of the plunder law has clarified the law - not only for the dramatis personae in the plunder case of former President Estrada which is still sub judice, but for all professors and students of law in the future. Besides sweeping aside the "void-for-vagueness" assault on the law, the separate concurring opinion clarifies the meaning of key terms, uncovers the legislative intendment, and provides useful doctrinal guides for future judicial application.

The coconut levy issue was one that called for urgent resolution - and for some time, many faulted the court for tarrying in its judgment, hardly appreciating the complexity of legal issues raised. The Court at last ruled, with the author as ponente. The Court would not be rushed into a categorical characterization of the funds - for that was a matter that called for more reflection. However, it would neither shirk from its duty of resolving a pressing controversy. Who was to vote the UCPB shares? The Court, speaking through Mr. Justice Panganiban, ruled that the government should be allowed to continue voting the shares, since these were purchased from funds that were prima facie public in character. The decision made progress over earlier decisions that would go no farther than state that they were "impressed" or "affected" with public character. This time, it characterized them as prima facie public in character. Without second guessing what the Court might eventually hold on the matter, it is a matter of judicial tradition that absent very compelling reasons to abandon this characterization, this will eventually be how matters will be made to stand.

The Greek word for reform is metanoia but this means not just changing one's mind. It means, above all, changing one's heart. Justice Panganiban chose as the opening passage of his book a quotation from the Gospels exhorting to conversion. Conversion is the order of the day—not because the Court has betrayed the trust the Republic has reposed in it, but because it dedicates itself to the unrelenting, unhesitating self-examination and self-scrutiny that will allow it to be worthy of the trust the public has and ought to have in it, the confidence that has merited for it accolades not only here (witness the "Filipino of the Year 2001" recognition which Justice Panganiban reflects on) but also abroad. It has set its sights on reengineering itself, on focusing its attention and its resources on the goals of independence, credibility, and competence—shoving aside every other adventitious and even tangential consideration to dwell on the "heart of the matter." Reform and conversion– these, after all, are matters of the heart.

Source: Callejo, Romeo J. Justice Artemio V. Panganibans Reforming the Judiciary: A Book Review. Manila Bulletin, December 12, 2002

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