MANILA, Philippines – The interview of Dean Amado Valdez of the University of the East (UE) College of Law became tense Thursday after he argued with the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) chairman over using “moral grounds" as criteria in court decisions.
In his interview, Valdez said judges are faced with a moral choice when issuing court decisions such as temporary restraining orders (TROs). This prompted JBC chairman and Supreme Court Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta to ask if Valdez is advocating a change in the rules for issuing TROs.
Valdez directly addressed the SC’s issuance of the TRO for former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, which would have allowed her to leave the country despite the impending filing of several cases against her.
“Ang sinabi ko, ang judge or justice must make a moral choice. When you give the TRO, it is not just a TRO. Aalis na yun e. I don’t want that the language of the TRO to be corrupted. If it is a TRO, makakaalis na, then hindi na TRO yan,” he told Peralta.
Peralta, who voted for the issuance of the TRO, then asked: “Are you referring to that specific case?”
The JBC chairman noted that using moral grounds in issuing court decisions would be difficult. He used as an example a family asking a judge for a TRO to continue squatting on land they do not own.
Peralta said if a judge uses moral grounds, he will always grant the TRO since he will feel sorry for the family who will lose their house even if they are squatters.
“Moral choice is not an element. Mabigat ang moral choice. Kawawa naman ang mga judges,” he said.
Valdez replied: “That is why you need to use reason. The moral ingredient must be coupled with reason. Ang sabi ko –you have to balance things.”
Court fees, judges’ ranks
The two lawyers also argued over Valdez’s statement that the collection of court fees is unconstitutional. Valdez argued the high court fees deprive the poor access to the courts and justice.
Peralta countered that the collection of court fees is allowed in the Constitution. He also noted that court fees are used for both the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF) and the Special Allowance for Judges and Justices (SAJJ).
“Court fees fund the JDF. The JDF is provided for by law. If there are no fees, what will get in the JDF? Part of the fees also goes to 9227, which is the SAJJ. The SAJJ does not come from the [General Appropriations Act] but the fees,” Peralta said.
Valdez then revised his proposal and said he does not advocate for the abolition of court fees.
“I just think maybe we should review it and make it more reasonable…The SC must review this and make it more consistent with the aspiration of the people for justice.”
He also pushed for the issuance of Court IDs, which would be used to raise funds for the judiciary.
The JBC Chairman also disagreed with Valdez’s proposal to make the ranks of regional trial court and metropolitan trial court judges equal to that of justices in the Court of Appeals (CA).
“If you do that, they will ask for benefits equal to the CA,” Peralta said.
Valdez, however, said the suggestion is just a proposal.
“These are all proposals that will need to be fine-tuned. So when you read it, you can’t judge it because you have to have a counter-proposal. What is you counter-proposal?” he asked.
Both lawyers agreed on a proposal to create a Constitutional court that will handle cases involving constitutional issues.
Peralta said the Supreme Court is set to establish integrity councils, which was also suggested by Valdez.
The UE law dean, meanwhile, said he agrees with the Supreme Court’s decision in distributing the Hacienda Luisita lands to famer-beneficiaries.
“The Supreme Court decision is a move in the right direction. It is a signal saying that regardless of the personalities involved, the SC must be independent,’ he said.
He suggested an inventory of farmer-beneficiaries since many of them do not even till the land they get from the government.
“Will the farmers be more productive owning lands? We have seen farmer leaders, you give them 1 hectare and they will employ another person. They are not the ones doing the farming…” he said.
“I think we should do an inventory of these people getting the land…Have they reinvented themselves? Were we able to achieve the goals of the agrarian reform program?” he added.