Saturday, January 05, 2008

Only the JBC is immune to public scrutiny

Chief Justice Reynato Puno’s lukewarm response to pressure to make the Judicial and Bar Council’s records open to the public is even more disappointing in light of the fact that the Chief Justice has made significant steps to address other issues gripping the country. For his work, and there is a lot of it since he became Chief Justice at the end of 2006, was recognized by the Manila Times when the broadsheet chose him to be “Times Person of the year.” (Rene Q. Bas, Chief Justice Puno: Times Person of the Year, Manila Times, December 30, 2007.”)

The Times recognized the Chief Justice’ accomplishments which include the introduction of the writ of amparo and the writ of habeas data to stop the spate of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances in the country. They are intended to address the weakness of the petition for habeas corpus. The Chief Justice noted that petitions for habeas corpus usually end up with state agents simply denying they had the missing person in their custody.

The writ of amparo bars military officers from simply denying that they are involved in disappearances or extrajudicial executions. Habeas Data compels military and government agents to release information about the “desaparecidos” and requires access to military and police files. These are bold moves that challenge those who wield guns and use force to terrorize and intimidate others. It is an attempt to enforce the Rule of Law that is teetering at the brink of lawlessness.

It is ironic that while these writs are designed to open up the records of other branches of the government, the JBC remains tucked away with its own secrets. The Judicial and Bar Council just celebrated its 20th Anniversary on 10 December 2007. It might be a good time to start thinking about making the JBC more transparent to the public.

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