THE LEGAL FRONT
By JUSTICE ART D. BRION (RET.)
In one of my earlier articles in February last year, I wrote that the people can only wait, hope and pray that the then relatively new Duterte administration would succed in combatting corruption. I noted that given the enormity and history of the problem, the President must carefully assess and give it special attention, and that all sectors must carry their share of the burden.
We are now nearly at the halfway point of the President’s term and perhaps he himself is almost exasperated that his efforts have not yet produced clearly tangible results. But the President must take heart as corruption is not a new problem that can be solved overnight. It is a malaise that has existed in all administrations; like a multi-headed hydra, it tends to grow a new head and present a new face just as soon as solutions are found. Solutions, too, do not have immediate effects; they labor under a built-in time lag.
The President has not lacked determination, as demonstrated by his quick and fast response to signs of corruption. He has particularly acted fast when his immediate official family is involved and has continually scanned the horizon for approaches, solutions and personalities who can make a significant dent on the problem.
At the DENR, for example and in an altogether different kind of problem, Secretary Roy Cimatu appears to have hit the kind of approach needed when he started cleaning up Boracay. He has acted fast and with resolve, and quickly demonstrated what he can do. Although his Boracay tasks are far from complete, the public can already see that his determination and actions can make and are making a difference. He now only needs to be consistent in consolidating his gains and in seeing his efforts to completion before he moves to other environmental challenges.
Corruption-wise, smuggling at the Customs Bureau best exemplifies the type of problem that now confronts the nation. “Tahi sa laman” is how a social media post described the problem. The President is apparently approaching the problem by looking to people who, like Secretary Cimatu, are trained, single minded, and oriented to provide the needed focus and solutions. While his past initial efforts might have been disappointing, the President has been persistent and is still looking for the combination of elements that would work.
Overall, an emerging and encouraging positive development is the initial success that sectors, other than the executive, are beginning to show from their past and continuing efforts to fight corruption. In particular, the judiciary is now beginning to show results in addressing earlier anomalies that then appeared to defy judicial solutions.
This is at least the implication that we, the reading public, are getting from the Sandiganbayan’s conviction of Rep. Imelda Marcos for charges brought in the early 1990s. Admittedly, there has been delay and the verdict is far from final, but either way, the end of this telenovela-like case appears to be in sight.
As early as next month, the Sandiganbayan may hand down its verdict in the corruption charges against Senator Bong Revilla, with the trial of Senator Jinggoy Estrada soon to follow now that the Supreme Court had cleared the way. The completion of the pre-trial of Senator J.P. Enrile’s case should not be far behind. Efforts against Janet Napoles and her cohorts, on the other hand, are likewise moving on several fronts and should now all be gathering momentum.
Further proof of performance, even partial ones, could show the public the results that the judiciary can achieve. Even acquittals, as had happened to former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, can disabuse the mind of the public of the image of the judiciary as a lumbering giant that can hardly move.
The Ombudsman can join the act by moving on the DAP and the other cases involving former President Benigno Aquino and others from his administration. Significant progress in the Dengvaxia scandal and the Mamasapano affair, to be sure, will clearly signal that the other pillars of the criminal justice system are in sync and are now moving.
Already, Ombudsman Sam Martirez has shown the stuff he is made of by resisting the “fictional excuses” that Rep. Imelda Marcos presented to justify her failure to attend the promulgation of the Sandiganbayan’s guilty verdict. His move is not at all surprising as he brought with him to his new post his extensive judicial experience as Regional Trial Court judge, as Justice of the Sandiganbayan, and as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The Sandiganbayan and the SC shall now be the fora of his actions as Ombudsman.
A significant development, as yet hardly noticed by the public, is the Supreme Court’s creation of a Judicial Integrity Board and a Corruption Prevention and Investigation Office to act on administrative and disciplinary cases involving lower court judicial officials and employees.
These new offices shall handle complaints and the investigation of reports or complaints of corrupt and unethical actions. This SC move shall speed up in no small measure the handling of administrative and disciplinary cases in the judiciary, heretofore handled and delegated by the Court en banc to lower court magistrates on an ad hoc basis for fact-finding and recommendations.
Inevitably, this SC move shall carry a wave effect on its workload by freeing up valuable court time for its other cases. These new offices shall likewise combine to act as the Court’s internal ombudsman in combatting corruption and unethical practices within the courts. To fully implement these moves, the SC only needs now a new Chief Justice and new Associate Justices for the currently vacant positions.
As we have done in the past year, we shall continue to wait, hope and pray for greater results in the government’s war against corruption. But the President can now rest unperturbed when he takes his well-deserved naps as the tipping point may just be around the corner.