By Jose Ma. Montelibano
It is jolting to reflect on the corruption of the Judiciary even though it can be everyday man’s assumption that our justice system sucks. The poor have long experienced a different kind of justice for them and a far friendlier one for the rich. That is nothing new and has been a powerful issue used by the rebellion to recruit partisans. But corruption is not about a rich-versus-poor scenario, it is the corrupt for themselves against everybody.
From the onset, I had welcomed the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Rene Corona. I have less interest in Rene Corona the person and much, much more for Rene Corona as the personification of both the Supreme Court and the Judiciary. It has been a keen interest of mine to have the public eye focused deliberately to the corruption of the Judiciary because it is the worst kind of corruption. And if others, especially the Judiciary and the legal profession would like to make a counter claim and deny the shameful level of corruption in their area of responsibility, they may wish to look at how the Philippines can be considered a corrupt country with one crucial branch not blackened as well.
For over thirty years, when I am in the company of lawyers, socially or professionally, corruption in the Judiciary and the legal profession has been a given. It used to be that corporations would have legal retainers on the basis of the relationships of owners of senor management and lawyers or law firms. But it began to expand a little when corporations would retain law firms with good connections to judges and justices. The imbalance of the Judiciary in dispensing justice warped even more when it went beyond the traditional difference between justice for the rich and justice for the poor to justice that can be bought.
Lawyers and/or law firms with good connections mean good connections with judges and justices. It means that decisions can be unduly influenced by relationships, for favors and for money. It means that judges and justices can be for sale. With judges and justices selling their decisions, there can be no corruption in the Judiciary.
The last discussion I had with a youngish lawyer in his 40′s produced the same information as has been mentioned in the last forty years. He said it is almost impossible for lawyers or law firms not to know a dirty judge or justice, and that many of them allow themselves to be used to corrupt those judges and justices in the interest of their clients. After all, clients who can afford want insurance far and beyond the merits of their cases. Why else are they looking for lawyers and law firms with friendly ties to judges and justices.
This young lawyer said that lawyers like him who have not established themselves are not in a position to risk their careers by exposing dirty judges and justices. He said there is a government agency under the Judiciary which accepts complaints against wrongdoing by judges and justices. However, he would never go there because complaints are leaked and the fate of the lawyer complainant is sealed – no more future in his profession. He did say that some very well established law firms had more leeway and courage to make complaints but they hardly do. Most prefer to keep things quiet and enjoy their advantage over smaller and newer law firms.
It was absolutely comical how many lawyers and law firms went to the defense of a Chief Justice accused of betraying the public’s trust. Corruption and protecting a former president anticipating plunder cases against her. It was as though they were fighting for their king – and they most probably think so. After all, Corona and his lieutenants act as if he were the Supreme Court, as though accusations against his character and behaviour are also attacks against the Judiciary.
Yet, the stained reputation of the Judiciary and its deteriorated credibility does not seem to upset them at all. They have been acting as though they are all in one clean branch of government and that the President of a dirty executive Branch and members of a dirty Congress had no right to think of their Chief Justice as unfit. They do not even begin to wonder if there are more dirty justices, judges and lawyers than dirty policemen by percentage.
The President was voted in on a platform of change, and change in a very specific field – corruption. The President is trying to live up to his promise and mandate. He needs the Judiciary to clean up. Without the Judiciary, the President only has one option for reform – a revolutionary government. What the President starts has to end with the Judiciary, has to end with justice being dispensed with firmness in a society long wracked by corruption.
Instead, Chief Justice Rene Corona and the majority of the Supreme Court have been the biggest and worst impediments for PNoy’s reform-focused government. It does not make it easier for the President to push a reform agenda by going after the Chief Justice, but a Chief Justice sneaked into his position around midnight forces a confrontation. The two of them cannot co-exist in harmony unless both agree to the cleansing of government.
The impeachment trial is not about Corona, it is about corruption in the judiciary. I understand, therefore, why the Corona cohorts in the Supreme Court who gave him a technical opening to be appointed in the dead of night have to protect him, and one another. I understand why judges and court employees have to defend one of their own as though they are defending their way of life. I under why many lawyers and law firms are totally uncomfortable with a President challenging corruption in the Judiciary. After all, when judges and justices do business with litigants, the lawyers are the usual go-between, the negotiators, the couriers of cash or favors.
It is not easy to beat the system, even if that system is a cancer that gnaw at the soul and nobility of the Filipino people. If we are afraid to confront the cancer, we can at least ask, “How many dirty justices, judges and lawyers are there?”