The conviction of the Philippine Chief Justice Corona for dishonesty having failed to tell the truth in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) as required of every public official by law is a serious event in the history of the Philippines. The first impeachment of a public official. It could pave the way for greater accountability by government officials, judges and prosecutors and an improvement in the administration of the rule of law in the country.
The alleged corruption of some members of the judiciary is legendary yet very few judges have been brought to trial and convicted. That is why this decision finding the chief justice guilty of dishonesty is monumental. It has brought hope for judicial reform in the country. The Supreme Court has ordered all judges to open their SALNs to the public. It is only right and proper.
It is the judiciary which can pass judgment on the rest of us. The supreme court justices interpret the constitution, they establish what is right and wrong. Judges must be totally dedicated to truth, honesty and integrity starting with themselves. How else can they implement the law with impartiality if they themselves do not obey it or think that they are above the law.
It has been the common belief that the judges protect each other. Complaints against them are seldom fully investigated. A Judge in Davao blocked an investigation by the Human Rights Commission into a suspected burial grave for victims of summary executions. Although it was clearly an obstruction of justice, he got away with it.
Allegedly, a hefty bribe can secure a marriage annulment or a dismissal of a serious charge. Some people believe court decisions are for sale to those who can pay the most. However exaggerations abound and the conviction of the chief justice must not be taken as a conviction of the whole judiciary, there are many good honest judges but we need many more.
It is common belief too that some judges favor the rich above the poor, that they are over lenient with child sex abusers and rapists. It makes the judiciary look like protectors of pedophiles. There are few convictions of child abusers and no foreign sex tourists have been convicted for child sexual abuse in many years. Although corrupt prosecutors are to be blamed also.
The long delays, endless postponements and frequent dismissals of charges against child abusers by suspect judges and corrupt prosecutors is a serious injustice. Speedy trials with continuous hearings should be the right for every child victim but they don’t get it and frequently they give up seeking justice. The rapist goes free just as planned by all except the child victim.
The apparent impunity of human rights violators, police and military, and people traffickers, is shocking and received heavy criticism from the Geneva based UN committee reviewing the Philippine record last week. This is the now the greatest challenge to the administration of President Aquino. Much has been achieved in two years but much more is needed.
The conviction of the Chief Justice and the order for the Supreme court to judges to open all their SALNs to public scrutiny has opened up the possibility that all officials will have to publish their SALNs . We can expect a rush to the banks by officials with hidden assets to withdraw them especially those with US dollars. Government officials and politicians reportedly keep their secret and unlawful wealth in dollar accounts on the premise that they cannot ever be disclosed under the banking law.
But the impeachment trial and conviction busted that all too convenient interpretation of the law used by the chief justice. The people will be demanding to see that all officials SALNs are published and accessible on the internet. For sure wily officials will use dummies to hold their ill-gotten wealth or they will hide it abroad.
We can look to the future with hope that there will be a positive and beneficial outcome to this conviction. The Philippine judiciary will be a healthier and more trustworthy servant of the people and deliver justice speedily and fairly. Perhaps abused children will find justice, the even the assassins might be tried and convicted. If we can have that we will have a more just and happier country.
Fr. Shay Cullen is President/CEO of Preda Foundation, Inc., a Philippine human rights social development organization working for 34 years through fair trade practices to help the poorest and most vulnerable people in society and overcome injustice and poverty. There are 88 professional Filipino staff implementing the 12 projects of Preda (see www.preda.org).