The Philippine Star - - OPINION - ANA MARIE PAM­INTUAN

The Depart­ment of Jus­tice, ac­cord­ing to its new chief, has been “cor­roded” and suf­fers from an im­age prob­lem. Cor­ro­sion is usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with slow de­struc­tion by a pow­er­ful agent such as acid, with the dam­age ir­re­versible. Can Sec­re­tary Me­nardo Gue­varra save the DOJ?

That’s the mis­sion im­posed on him by Pres­i­dent Duterte, Gue­varra has said. “Do what is right” and re­store “the dig­ni­fied im­age” of the DOJ were Duterte’s or­ders, Gue­varra de­clared af­ter be­ing sworn into of­fice. It was an un­equiv­o­cal pub­lic cen­sure of his pre­de­ces­sor Vi­tal­iano Aguirre II, no doubt de­liv­ered with the ap­proval of the Pres­i­dent.

Gue­varra, lit­tle known un­til his DOJ ap­point­ment, is mak­ing the right noises so far. But talk is cheap; he will be mea­sured by what he can ac­com­plish ASAP in his house­clean­ing mis­sion.

Any im­prove­ment will re­flect on his boss the Pres­i­dent, whose rat­ings slipped in the lat­est sur­vey by poll­ster So­cial Weather Sta­tions Inc.

A 70 per­cent sat­is­fac­tion rat­ing, how­ever, is cer­tainly “very good” and still high enough for a pres­i­dent to con­tinue com­mand­ing po­lit­i­cal sup­port in this land of star fruits or bal­imb­ing.

That’s just six points down from Duterte’s ini­tial sat­is­fac­tion rat­ing in the third quar­ter of 2016, or three months af­ter as­sum­ing the pres­i­dency. And it’s still three points higher than his 67 per­cent in the third quar­ter last year – the steep­est fall yet amid the ex­e­cu­tion of teenagers in his war on drugs.

The per­son with di­rect com­mand re­spon­si­bil­ity over that war – Duterte’s fa­vorite cop Ron­ald dela Rosa – didn’t suf­fer the fate of Aguirre. But Dela Rosa will fi­nally be out of the Philip­pine Na­tional Po­lice. And so far his re­place­ment looks like an im­prove­ment. Per­haps Os­car Al­bay­alde will be like Gue­varra and also deal with cor­ro­sion in the PNP.

* * * The po­lice and DOJ are both pillars of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem. And the en­tire sys­tem is cor­roded, all the way to the Supreme Court, whose mem­bers are now be­ing de­rided as the SC “in­jus­tices.”

An ex­pat frus­trated over the cor­rup­tion and in­ef­fi­ciency suf­fered by his com­pa­tri­ots in deal­ing with the courts in this coun­try told me that Philip­pine jus­tice is “mal­leable.”

Is there any­one who can re­verse the cor­ro­sion in the SC? At this point, the sit­u­a­tion seems hope­less. The SC in­jus­tices can’t seem to rise above them­selves. And when the high court is rotten, it cor­rupts the en­tire ju­di­ciary.

But the ju­di­ciary is out­side the au­thor­ity of the pres­i­dent of the repub­lic, al­though it’s not un­usual for Mala­cañang to make cer­tain SC jus­tices an of­fer they can’t refuse. Court re­forms are up to the SC to draw up and im­ple­ment.

Even if the pres­i­dent can di­rect the solic­i­tor gen­eral to seek the fast-track ouster of any SC jus­tice through a quo war­ranto pe­ti­tion, it will still be up to the in­jus­tices to de­cide whether a case against their peer should pros­per.

Where a pres­i­dent can im­ple­ment sig­nif­i­cant re­forms are in the other pillars of the jus­tice sys­tem: the po­lice, the pros­e­cu­tion ser­vice, jail man­age­ment and cor­rec­tions.

Duterte’s lat­est ap­pointees are en­cour­ag­ing, par­tic­u­larly be­cause nei­ther Gue­varra nor Al­bay­alde is from San Beda or Davao or served in the city, al­though the new PNP chief is a mil­i­tary academy mis­tah of Dela Rosa. The Pres­i­dent is rais­ing hopes that he is go­ing out of his com­fort zone to look be­yond long­time friends, school­mates and loy­al­ists, and is se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing if his ap­pointee can “do what is right.”

* * * Do­ing right in the jus­tice sys­tem should mean ad­min­is­ter­ing jus­tice fairly, hon­estly, quickly and ef­fi­ciently.

It’s too much to as­pire for the bru­tal ef­fi­ciency of the jus­tice sys­tems in Sin­ga­pore and South Korea. But it shouldn’t be im­pos­si­ble to im­prove the track record of the PNP in in­ves­ti­gat­ing and solv­ing crimes in a mod­ern, sci­en­tific way, and in keep­ing the pub­lic safe with­out re­sort­ing to ex­tra­ju­di­cial short cuts.

Solv­ing crimes means the per­pe­tra­tor is caught, pros­e­cuted, con­victed, and pun­ished with­out VIP treat­ment, with­out any chance to es­cape or en­joy pro­longed hos­pi­tal con­fine­ment or be­come an enor­mously wealthy drug dealer while in prison.

It also shouldn’t be im­pos­si­ble for gov­ern­ment pros­e­cu­tors to help speed up court cases. The DOJ can work with the SC in curb­ing de­lays in lit­i­ga­tion.

I once wasted half a day in the court­room of Parañaque re­gional trial judge Amelita To­lentino so I could at­test to the au­then­tic­ity of an ar­ti­cle that came out in

The STAR re­gard­ing the Viz­conde mas­sacre case. I don’t know why bring­ing a news­pa­per clip­ping of the ar­ti­cle or the en­tire pa­per to court would not suf­fice.

The judge told me to ad­dress her as “your honor” and to stop look­ing at her when I an­swered – or was I sup­posed to look at her? I was so dis­com­bob­u­lated I can’t even re­mem­ber, but I know I ended up just fac­ing the wall across from my seat.

To­lentino con­victed the de­fen­dants led by Hubert Webb for the mas­sacre, but her de­ci­sion was later re­versed by the SC, when she had been pro­moted as jus­tice of the Court of Ap­peals.

No won­der it takes 20 years to re­solve a crim­i­nal case in this coun­try. And even longer if there’s money to be made from the no­to­ri­ous TRO or tem­po­rary re­strain­ing or­der. That’s cor­ro­sion for you. The weak­ness of our jus­tice sys­tem is at the root of many evils in our coun­try. Fix­ing it will re­quire deal­ing with prob­lems in ev­ery pil­lar of the sys­tem.

In­sti­tu­tional cor­ro­sion even­tu­ally rubs off on so­ci­ety. For Gue­varra and Al­bay­alde, sim­ply be­ing able to lay the foun­da­tions for enduring re­forms will be a con­sid­er­able achieve­ment.

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