MANILA, Philippines — Supreme Court magistrates have agreed that cases that reached the tribunal after April 5 would be resolved within two years, Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo said Friday.
“My fellow Justices and I resolved to decide all petitions, cases or matters that have been filed before the Supreme Court after April 5, 2021 strictly within the said 24-month period from date of submission pursuant to Section 15(1), Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution, and to strictly observe requirements for the proper exercise of its power of judicial review,” Gesmundo said in his opening statement for his first Chief Justice Meets the Press.
The chief justice acknowledged that one of the perennial problems of the Judiciary is the delay in the disposition of cases, and this has affected the public’s perception of the court and its processes. “This is precisely why the reason why among my short-term goals for the Philippine courts, like the Chief Justices before me, is the speedy disposition of cases,” he said.
In the latest Judicial and Bar Council public interview, private lawyer Benedicta Du-Baladad noted that other than the disposition of cases, the Judiciary also faces a problem with declining trust, which is a problem of perception. She was the first to face the panel in the two-day screening, and the other candidates were also asked whether the Judiciary should be affected by the low approval rating in surveys.
The chief justice also said there is an effort among the adjudicative offices of the Supreme Court to hire more law clerks for the Offices of the Justices to eliminate pending cases that are already beyond 24-months.
Gesmundo admitted that there are cases that have been languishing in the courts’ docket, but he vowed that the justices are committed to dispose them in the coming two years.
“To avoid a repeat of that situation, each and everyone of the members of the Court, through a self-imposed discipline but ultimately, will be provided in the internal rules of the Court, that we decide cases as required and mandated under the Constitution. That is our commitment,” he added.
The Constitution holds that cases must be decided within 24 months from the date of submission, but there have been discussions on whether this period is mandatory or mere directory.
But what about the petitions vs 'drug war'?
One of the cases that have been pending before the SC for more than 24 months now is the petition challenging the constitutionality of the Duterte administration’s bloody “drug war.”
More than four years since it had been filed and days-long oral arguments, the SC has yet to resolve the petition filed by kin of “drug war” victims.
Gesmundo said the Office of the Solicitor General has already complied with the court’s directive to submit documents relevant to the police’s Oplan Tokhang—although a Rappler report noted that these contained “rubbish” files too.
During the oral arguments, now-retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio was the first to ask questions, typically the order of interpellation for the member-in-charge.
Associate Justice Edgardo Delos Santos has since took the spot Carpio vacated, and following court rules, inherited the latter’s pending cases, including the Almora petition.
Gesmundo explained: “It was submitted during the time of Justice Carpio, Justice [Delos Santos] inherited the case as a rule in the Supreme Court.”
But Delos Santos has only a few weeks at the SC, following his early retirement that will take effect June 30.
Asked what will be the fate of the high-profile case, the chief justice said: “I do not want to pre-empt Justice [Delos Santos] on his recommendation before his retirement, but I’m sure that Justice [Delos Santos] will submit before his retirement.”
“Unfortunately I cannot supervise how Justice [Delos Santos] does his work in a specific case, we merely rely on the moment the draft ponencia is circulated and what his analysis will be is too early for me to say, until the draft ponencia and the report and recommendation is distributed to each member of the court,” the chief justice said.
“Hopefully Justice [Delos Santos] will be able to write his ponencia before he retires,” he added.
The International Criminal Court prosecutor launched a preliminary examination into the alleged extrajudicial killings in the context of the government’s anti-drug crackdown in February 2018. The decision on whether the ICC prosecutor will seek authorization to launch an investigation into alleged extrajudicial killings linked to the government’s "war on drugs" would be out in the first half of 2021.
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