The search for the best and the finest, the “el primus inter pares,’’ is far from an easy task. We have a “wounded Supreme Court,” a nation with a lingering “social cancer.’’ We are looking for a knight in shining armor, who can pull the Holy Grail and bring back the honor and respect to an institution that has long been desecrated, by too many shadows of doubts, against a once revered third branch of our government. This branch, which used to pride itself that men of impeccable character and wisdom used to lead the institution with utmost integrity and competence, has become an embarrassment, about whom rumors of shenanigans are being whispered around, both in the Bar and in the Bench, in coffee shops and in the academe. President Erap boldly talked of ‘’hoodlums in robes.’’
The highest court of the land has become a virtual ivory tower, where 15 learned and powerful men in robes, who have powers of life and death over the rest of 100 million people, might have lost touch of the painful realities on the ground. They might have forgotten that millions out there who have cases in court, are waiting hungry and angry, about our brand of justice, that is not only often delayed, but also usually denied, to the poor and powerless. Justice Roberto Abad, a nominee from the inside, admitted that the court is deeply wounded. Dean Amado Valdez called for a sense of moral standards, and Rep. Ronaldo Zamora reminded us all that the Court must give “more in law’’ to those “who have less in life.’’ The High Court should be the first to admit that the words of these nominees carried so much grains of truth.
And so, how should the best be chosen? First and foremost, the shortlisted nominees must have have passed the 4-way test of: 1. Unimpeachable Character, Integrity and Innate Sense of Fairness; 2. Impeccable Legal Wisdom and Erudition; 3. Uncompromising Courage and Independence of Judgment; and 4. Proven Leadership, Human Relations and Problem-Solving and Management Skills. Having passed these barest minimum requirements, the best choice should be he or she who has the expertise in, and passion at, resolving the most number of pending cases in the highest court. Records show that most of the unresolved appeals there are labor cases. Many of these appeals are there for ten to twenty years. They just lie there and they die there, along with the hopes of the poor, the powerless, who have no power to write personal notes to the Chief Magistrate.
Let us then choose a labor expert. The poor workers who are victims of illegal dismissal, unfair labor practices and many other forms of exploitation and injustice, have to wait for two decades for their reinstatement and backwages, their retirement pay and other remedies. Some of the victims are already too old and too sick when the order of reinstatement are affirmed or reversed. In fairness to the Court, when the labor cases are raised to it, there were already years of delays below in the offices of the Arbiters, Commissioners, and the Court of Appeals. But the High Court should not exacerbate the exasperation by adding five more years to the workers’ agony. The Chief Justice can make a lot of difference, with a strong leadership and a right sense of urgency and priority.
With all due respect, the Chief Justice must take responsibility in leading the Court to a straight and narrow path, and not allow the Tribunal to become captive of the Court’s own creations of technical inanities and procedural monstrosities. Technical rules should not be used to deprived the poor of their due, and to favor the rich of what they do not deserve. Labor cases which have become final should remain immutable. And those that are waiting to be resolved should be disposed of with an utmost sense of urgency. The convicts who were sentenced to life have nothing more to lose if their cases are delayed. Civil litigants shall be amply compensated with restitution for damages. Commercial and tax cases involve the rich and the powerful. Labor cases involve the poor. They must command the highest priority.
The poor do not need long and winded decisions in the masterful prose of Oliver Wendell Holmes. They need a simple resolution of their plea for basic justice. And they need it without delay. They cannot eat judicial eloquence for breakfast. And so, if we want a Chief Justice for the people, let us find that labor expert, provided he is a clean man or woman, who has a logical mind, a clean heart and a passion to heal the woundedness of the Court, which form part of the cancer of the nation. We need a person who fears God and loves the poor, a person of truth “who can walk with kings and not lose the common touch.’’ These are “the best of times and the worst of times,’’ and we need a Chief Justice who will deliver street justice, without fear or favor. We need a leader who is not beholden to a taipan or an ideologue, he who is “willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause.’’
Yes, we need a Chief Magistrate, the first among equals, who shall help us “build a just and humane society.’’ This is not about politics or business influence-peddling. This is about saving our nation, healing its wounds and finding a Chief, whom we can all respect and be proud of. And with whom, we can all rest, completely confident and trusting, that there shall be justice for all. That, my countrymen, is not an easy task.