MANILA, Philippines – Family lawyer Katrina Legarda on Tuesday gave her opinions on various topics, including the need to pass a divorce law, during her interview for the position of Chief Justice.
In her interview before the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), Legarda said she supports the passage of a divorce law in a limited sense based on the same grounds for legal separation in the Family Code.
She noted that current statistics show that 50% of Filipino marriages are in the courts, with thousands of annulment cases pending in the Supreme Court.
“The concept of a divorce may be passed in a limited sense. As human beings, people make mistakes. People are coming to family lawyers sometimes after 6 months of marriage, it is just extraordinary. 23,24, 25 – what is the life ahead of them if they are not given a second chance?” she asked the JBC.
Legarda said she does not favor no-fault divorces, wherein the dissolution of a marriage does not require a showing of wrong-doing by either party.
On the other hand, she favors the grounds already included in Section 55 of the Family Code including:
lesbianism or homosexuality;
repeated physical violence or grossly abusive conduct against the petitioner;
physical violence or moral pressure to compel the petitioner to change religious or political affiliation; attempt to corrupt the partner or child to engage in corruption;
murder attempt; and,
Legarda, meanwhile, said the same Family Code prohibits same-sex marriage in the country. She said that prior to the passage of the Family Code, the law did not specify the gender of persons entering into marriage.
The family lawyer said she favors age-appropriate sex education in schools, noting the rising number of teen pregnancies in the country and children’s exposure to pornography on the Internet.
She said that her work in the Child Protection Network Foundation has shown that many young people do not understand the act of sex.
“Many young children think that they won’t get pregnant the first time, which we know is false…We have kids saying they were raped and then when you ask them, it turns out they were kissed, hinipuan sila because they see in soap operas, screaming, hair being pulled, kissing scenes and then there’s a new scene.”
“This continued cloak that veils the act is not good and I would prefer that the schools and properly trained professors take it on because what happens is kids see it on the Internet. We had an extraordinary study recently done that 9 out of 10 children have seen pornography and the act of sex on the Internet and without proper guidance of parents and schools, the problem is going to be worse.”
At the start of her interview, Legarda confessed that being a lawyer or even Chief Justice were not on the list of things she wanted to do growing up. She said that she only took up her nomination seriously because she did not want to let down the people who seriously wanted her in the court.
The founding chair of the Child Justice League, Legarda gained national prominence when she lawyered for an 11-year-old girl raped by former Zamboanga del Norte Rep. Romeo Jalosjos in 1997.
As senior vice-president and chief legal counsel of the Government Services Insurance System (GSIS), she said she cleaned up the GSIS law department and made it run like a regular law office. She also split up the GSIS lawyers into 5 groups that would handle closures for contracts, legal opinions, litigation, etc.
Asked what she hopes to bring to the Supreme Court if appointed Chief Justice, she said she hopes to bring the concept of fairness and impartiality.
If appointed Chief Justice, she said her first act would be to reorganize the Office of the Court Administrator to facilitate and hasten the disposition of complaints against judges and personnel.
She proposed to set different standards and criteria in evaluating judges of family courts “where cases never end” compared to regional trial court judges.
She also said she wants better working conditions in the Supreme Court and more access to the Internet to improve efficiency.
Impinging judicial independence
Legarda said she disagreed with the grounds set forth in the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Renato Corona. Corona was removed as Chief Justice after he was found guilty by the Senate impeachment court of betraying public trust.
“I felt that the grounds were not really impeachable offenses…What they brought up against Corona were not really impeachable offenses although I did see how the prosecutors weaved this into betrayal of public trust,” she said.
She said one effect that the Corona impeachment trial had was a chilling effect on judges, who were now afraid of displeasing a higher authority.
“I felt it impinged a little bit on judicial independence because the morale of the courts plunged. In the beginning, they were like lost sheep. What’s going to happen to us now and how can we tell the people…that this is not what the judiciary is all about,” she said.
Legarda also disagreed with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s decision not to honor a Supreme Court order allowing former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. She said she felt de Lima dealt with the SC TRO “in a very political manner”, knowing that many of the SC justices were appointed by Mrs. Arroyo.
“I am not political in that sense and I do not look to justices on who appointed them because I find that once they have been appointed, most justices want their reputations to be preserved and not besmirched,” she said.
Legarda said that if she is appointed Chief Justice, she cannot have moral ascendancy over the other Supreme Court magistrates who have been in the Court much longer.
“I think the moral ascendancy of the Chief Justice is not necessarily among his co-equals among the High Court but those below the High Court. I cannot have moral ascendancy over persons who are equal to me if I were Chief Justice. I can certainly ask them to help me rebuild this very tattered reputation that the judiciary has right now and I think all of them will be interested and concerned in making the judiciary a truly co-equal branch of the government,” she said.