MANILA, Philippines – Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan on Tuesday said he is open to the idea of bringing an outsider to become the new Chief Justice.
Speaking to ANC, Pangilinan said allowing an outsider to become the head of the country’s judiciary could bring about different results in the country’s justice system.
“In the same way that the President was an outsider…He was never part of the choices until the last moment. I am not saying it will apply here but it happens that there are different paths and routes to the top,” he said.
“Maybe we should be open to creative, non-traditional approaches…We have to be ready to do things differently. We have to be willing to take risks, think outside of the box,” he added.
The search for the next Chief Justice officially began yesterday with the convening of the Judicial and Bar Council. The new chief magistrate will replace Renato Corona, who was removed from office after being convicted for failure to truthfully disclose his assets in his SALNs.
President Aquino has 90 days to appoint a new chief justice.
Pangilinan said he does not agree with proposals that the President should not choose a member of his Cabinet to replace Corona. Earlier reports said Bureau of Internal Revenue chief Kim Henares and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima are possible candidates for the chief justice post.
“Well, I am inclined not to (agree). You bring them all in and let the process, the vetting happen. Bring as many as possible, as many choices and select the best. I’d rather not exclude anyone. Let’s listen to public interviews, see how they defend themselves… then we can make a better judgment,” he said.
He added that he is not backing anyone for the position.
Open up JBC deliberations
The senator also urged the JBC to open up its deliberations for the next chief justice to the public.
Pangilinan, a former member of the JBC, said deliberations for the position of chief justice have been shrouded in secrecy, leading some to question the vetting process.
The senator said when he was still part of the JBC, he pushed for the amendment to make the interviews of aspirants for the position of chief justice open to the public.
He also pushed for stricter rules for the vetting process including the hiring of psychologists and special investigators to check on the aspirants.
“We have provisions in our rules that allow for psychologists to be hired but because of budgetary constraints, this has not happened. Also investigators. The JBC must have separate investigators hindi lang relying on the [National Bureau of Investigation]. Create a separate pool of investigators so you can really weed out the misfits and accept the best and the brightest and those with integrity,” he said.
Low conviction breeds ‘culture of compassion’
In the interview, Pangilinan said the President should convene the Judicial Executive Legislative Advisory and Consultative Council (JELACC) immediately after a new chief justice is appointed.
He said the JELACC could immediately address the budget of the judiciary which, he said, should be doubled.
“We want to see judiciary’s budget doubled to 2% of the national budget. That’s around P10 billion spread out to 5 years. If we spend P26 billion for irrigation and P20 billion for the conditional cash transfer for 1 year, what’s 10 billion in 5 years?” he said.
“We need to create more courts, hire more justices and judges and fill up vacancies and modernize the system,” he added.
The senator also noted that the average case life in the country is 6 years, without including the appeals process. He said the problem is due to a number of factors including lack of judges and prosecutors.
Twenty-five percent of the country’s courts do not have a judge, he said.
Pangilinan said another problem hobbling the country’s justice system is its low conviction rate. He said Hong Kong boasts of a 79% conviction rate on corruption cases, compared to only 20% in the Philippines.
“What will the criminals say e wala naman nahuhuli? We can get away with it. The respect for the rule of law is undermined by a system of justice that is antiquated and not modernized,” he said.
He said the low conviction rate has also led many Filipinos to feel sorry for people who are convicted.
He added: “This ‘awa’ thing is cultural. Not many are punished anyway. If 80% are convicted, then the awa is gone. E lahat naman napaparusahan. Kapag kaunti lang ang napaparusahan, maaawa ka.”