The will to change

By Justice Arturo D. Brion (ret.)

From his very first public appearance during the Court’s 120th founding anniversary last June 11, 2021, Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo signaled in unmistakable terms his resolve to kickstart the process of change in the judiciary.

Doubters, of course, would pooh-pooh his maiden public speech as par for the course and one that every new Chief Justice makes. I have reasons to believe, though, that the skeptics could be wrong this time.

My first reason is the consistency of the Chief Justice’s intent to bring about change. I have heard these same words from him before, in the same intensity, not only during his JBC interview but long before; he had harbored these same thoughts long before he had any inkling that he would head the judiciary as Chief Justice, borne perhaps by his years of lecturing on Remedial Law at the Ateneo Law School.

He had posited then, as he now plainly communicates, that the judiciary’s problems could be solved through the application of will, hard work and sacrifice; through focused efforts addressing its systems and processes; and through people sufficiently dedicated to battle even long odds.

This position, perhaps, was one of the sources of his fixation on computerization, on the need to analyze and review our judicial processes, and on his insistence that the judiciary should recruit the best, the brightest and the most ethical. These, to him, are apparently the basic ingredients to achieve the greater efficiency and the sterling reputation that an adjudication system requires.

My second reason to be gung-ho stems from the nature of the first change he outlined in his maiden speech – changes on the adjudicative operations in the Court itself; the members of the Court themselves are self-limiting their own time to act on their new cases.

From the “directory” interpretation made before, they now bind themselves to resolve all newly filed cases within the 24 months allowed them by the Constitution. Thus, both the lower courts and the High Court are now subject to the constitutional limits. This is equality of treatment of the highest order – a direct application of the Constitution on the Court’s justices themselves, by themselves.

These, to me, are very significant starting points as they are humbling and self-sacrificing moves, no different from the admission that Court operations themselves might have been contributing to delay in the prompt disposition of cases.

But over and above all these, I see fresh winds of change coming because I can sense that the Chief Justice and the members of the Court are not alone in the desire and the willingness to carry out the measures that judicial reform would require.

In the years after the Court’s second painful experience affecting its Chief Justice, I have seen and heard people, in and out of the Court, who are ready and eager for change. Some of them, in fact, have shown impatience that change had not been happening despite the Court’s painful (and to some, self-inflicted) lessons.

These distinctive signals are still there; I saw and heard the same sentiments as I renewed my linkages with old and new friends around the Court when I came to PhilJA.

The discussions I heard among senior officials about the problems plaguing the judiciary and the positive moves they can contribute, have been very touching to see and hear, even if only in viber groups and in small private zoom meetings.

Add to these, the very positive attitudes I have recently seen from members of the private sector who have been asking how they can individually or as a group help the Chief Justice succeed in reforming our justice system. These groups, by the way, are not confined to the traditional groups – such as the Judicial Reform Initiative whose members have consistently been helping the Court in the past.

What I see and hear now appears to be a wave of sentiment to help, coming not only from traditional faces and sources but from varied sources within and outside the judiciary.

The Chief Justice, it seems, in his quiet and humble way, has earned the attention of many and is perceived to be the catalyst who can direct and speed up the change that the judiciary has long yearned for.

This, in my view, is a new and added element that could be a game changer in the Court’s efforts for reforms. When people themselves want to change for the better and are ready to will its happening, change cannot but happen.

Let us all watch and see. And join the will to improve our own home – the judiciary.

Art D. Brion – June 12,2021