Thursday, October 31, 2013


When reports came out that like the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Judiciary has its own version of “Napoles,” a name or a word which is now synonymous with unmitigated corruption in the highest level of government, a chorus of views criticizing the judiciary and the justice system flowed from opinion writers and columnists.

The court magistrates once again found themselves pilloried by generalized and sweeping accusations of corruption which lack hard and solid facts to back them up. At most these are perceptions. I’m not saying the judiciary is clean and the judges are all saints. They are not. Time and again we see the efforts of the Supreme Court to clean up the ranks by the dismissal of corrupt and undesirable judges and even justices.

Human vulnerability to corruption is not the monopoly of government officials let alone the judges. We need to be cautious that in our desire to ventilate pressing public issues, we do not debase the institutions upon which our democratic society rests.

The judicial branch is known to be the weakest of the three major branches of government. The Judiciary does not have the power of the purse, a power exclusively the domain of the legislative branch. Neither does the judicial branch hold the power of the sword, a power exclusively held by the President, who exercises executive functions.

The judiciary is known to be a passive institution for it acts only when an actual case or controversy is brought before it. It serves as an Impartial Arbiter, constitutionally empowered to interpret the constitution and the laws and checks the excesses of the exercise of power by the political branches of government under its inherent power of judicial review.

They say the courts are beholden to no one but the constitution and the law.

Appointments to the judiciary is basically a political act of the President who is the appointing authority. The Judicial and Bar Council recommends to the President who ultimately appoints the judges and the justices. The vetting process in the selection by the JBC follows a reasonably high standard. It is, however, inevitable that political considerations, other than merit, is a factor in the appointment of judges, since the appointing authority holds a political office.

In terms of budget, to insure the independence of the judiciary, the constitution gives it fiscal autonomy. This is well and good as a matter of principle but the reality is that as an institution the judicial branch depends upon the good graces of the legislative branch in the appropriation of its budget. Records would show that the Judiciary has the lowest budget allocation compared to the other branches and agencies of the government. The Supreme Court has to suffer the uncomfortable situation of sending its representative to attend the congressional budget hearings to justify or even plead to the politicians for its budgetary needs. This is another issue which puts the judiciary in a weak position in the interplay of governmental power.

The judiciary has no pork barrel, PDAF, or DAF, unlike the Senate and the House of Representatives. There is hardly any opportunity to steal or divert government funds. In this sense the Napoles racket might not be able to thrive in the judicial halls. The Napoles technique, however, could work its way in the fixing, wheeling and dealing game. But this is nothing new. Fixers thrive everywhere even in basket ball games. And who says no judge couldn’t be swayed to play games.

The point is the number of very good judges and justices far outweigh the misfits. Despite the perceived weakness and vulnerability of the courts they still remain the last bastion of justice. My only consolation as a member of the judiciary is that people still trust our courts of law. They keep coming to court because they know they will be heard, and granted relief in the enforcement of their rights and redress of wrong. I fear the day when they would no longer resort to the courts. That would be a dreadful thing to imagine.

The above enlightening piece is authored by the Honorable Judge Ray Alan Drilon of Bacolod City. Reprinted with permission.