Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Saving the Court of Appeals

A recent Manila Times Report raises questions regarding the propriety of comments made by Ombudsman Merceditas Navarro-Gutierrez. According to the report (Jomar Canlas, Ombudsman Mercy asks GMA and JBC to please Choose better CA justice nominees, Manila Times, March 27, 2007) the Ombudsman appealed to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) and President Arroyo to recommend and appoint better persons—in integrity, competence and character—to prevent the appointment in the Court of Appeals of people like the “Dirty Dozen.” According to Gutierrez, these are justices who are known for selling temporary restraining orders and for other corrupt practices.

The same article, however, states that no formal complaint has been lodged against some of the “Dirty Dozen.”

Gutierrez also asked the JBC to nominate and MalacaƱang to appoint only persons who are “Judicial Excellence Awardees” and reject those whose only strength is their “connections” and “padrinos” (backers). She fears that some of these corrupt CA justices might enter the Supreme Court in the near future.

The article continues to say that nine male justices and two female justices, assigned in Manila, are allegedly on the list of the allegedly corrupt magistrates in the appellate court. The Court of Appeals is composed of 69 justices, 51 of which are stationed in Manila.

The Ombudsman's comments cast doubt on the integrity of the Court of Appeals. By insinuating wrong doing on the part of some Justices (whom she did not identify) she created the perception that the Justices are corrupt. Those with cases pending in the appellate court are wont to ask, "Are the Justices deliberating on my case among the corrupt Justices?" She faults Judicial and Bar Council which apparently recommends incompetents to the Court of Appeals. She faults the President (all of them?) for appointing incompetents to the same Court.

This is a strained conclusion by the Ombudsman: A dozen or so Justices who may have less than stellar reputations means the JBC and the President have been remiss in their responsibilities. Moreover Ombudsman Gutierrez suggestion that the JBC restrict their nominees to recipients of a certain award has no basis in law. This is not a qualification for a judgeship under the Philippine Constitution. There are no studies to back her conclusions, no data other than the number of allegedly corrupt Justices she has carelessly thrown about. Surely a public official, the Ombudsman no less, should be careful about impugning the credibility of the courts, the President, and the Judicial and Bar Council.

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