Outgoing SC Justice Puno to Associate Justice Corona: Preserve integrity of the High Court

May 14, 2010 8:04 pm 

MANILA, May 14 — As he formally bows out of office Friday afternoon, outgoing Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Reynato Puno congratulated his replacement Associate Justice Renato Corona, even as he cautions president-elect Sen. Benigno Simeon "Noynoy" Aquino III from carrying out his plan to deliberately cut out the latter from his oath taking ceremonies this end of June.

"I hope it won't come to that," Puno said when interviewed by reporters who attended his retirement ceremonies at the SC main office in P. Faura, Manila.

He said that a deliberate snub could trigger a "Constitutional Crisis" and create ill feeling between the judiciary and the executive branch.

Puno also said everyone "from the highest to the lowest (in goverment) must follow the rule of law as it is the glue that holds the government and people together."

The outgoing Chief Justice earlier congratulated Corona for being selected as the nation's 23rd head magistrate.

"Congratulations to the 23rd Chief Justice of the Philippines, Chief Justice Renato C. Corona. I am sorry that my wrong birthday is causing you some problems. If it is of any help, I am willing to file a petition for habeas data to change the date of my birthday," Puno said apparently in jest to the laughter and amusement of the over 200 dignitaries who gathered to witness the retirement ceremonies.

Puno also lauded his family for their constant support and devotion to him.

"Last but not the least, I want to acknowledge my family, my constant source of strength, my happiness, my fulfillment — my late wife Luz; — our children Ringo, Emmanuel and Rachel, and Ruth and Marc; and my council of advisers — my grandchildren, Isabelle, Tisha, Elijah and Juliana. I promise to make up for lost time with my children, and I will do that by spoiling my grandchildren. Incidentally, I called up Chairman Jose A.R. Melo of Comelec (Commission on Elections and told him I intend to form a new party-list group. It will be called Bantay Apo. All under the dictatorship of their grandchildren are invited to join this new party-list," he mused.

"Above all, I express my total gratitude to God Almighty, the Great Architect of the Universe, for directing my destiny. To Him be all the glory forever and ever," the outgoing Chief Justice stressed with piety and devotion.

When asked on his proudest achievement as SC chief, Puno replied that it was when the court succeeded in promulgating the writ of amparo, Writ of Habeas Data, Writ of Kalikasan, and Writ of Continuing Mandamus.

"As Chief Justice, I thought that the Supreme Court, with all its expanded powers, could not remain passive vis-à-vis these continuing assaults on the human rights of our people. Thus, in 2007, I initiated an unprecedented summit, in which we called on all the significant stakeholders of the justice system to find solutions to the embarrassing extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. I underscore unprecedented because, in its more than 100 years of its existence, the High Court had not taken this step forward," he added.

"The call raised eyebrows, knitted foreheads, and gave rise to a lot of question marks. But I am glad that my colleagues in the High Court supported the summit, which some suspected would just be another idle talkfest. The summit gave birth to the Writ of Amparo and the Writ of Habeas Data. These two remedial writs have given a substantial shield to our people whose right to life, liberty or security is violated, or threatened with violation, by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee or of a private individual or entity. The success of these two writs cannot be gainsaid. Statistics show that today our people make use of the Writ of Amparo more than the Writ of Habeas Corpus," Puno underscored.

He added that this was followed in 2008 by another summit which sought to address the marginalized sector's lack of access to justice.

"In 2008 I called for another summit to address our peoples' lack of access to justice. This time, I solicited the assistance of the justices of the Court of Appeals by asking them to give a sympathetic ear to the complaints of the various disadvantaged sectors of our society — the farmers, the fishermen, the laborers, the informal settlers, the women, the youth, the senior citizens, the indigenous people, etc. — and to help in the search for elusive solutions to their complaints. Again, to help the poor gain more access to our justice system, the Supreme Court (SC) came out with two solutions," he stressed.

"One, to help the poor involved in criminal cases, we re-launched the Enhanced Justice on Wheels Program. These are mobile courts that go to the different jails in our country, in fair or foul weather, to expedite the trial of criminal cases in which the accused are too poor to post bail for their liberty. This enhanced Justice on Wheels has resulted in the following: the release of 3,545 inmates; the giving of free medical and dental assistance to 9,056 detainees; the successful mediation of some 5,006 of their cases; the giving of free legal aid to 2,270 of them, and the delivery of free lectures to some 15,000 barangay officials and indigenous people on laws affecting them," he added.

"Second, to help the poor who are involved in petty civil cases, in which the amount in question is not more than P100,000, the Supreme Court launched the Small Claims Courts with special rules to govern them. The rules governing these claims are simple, informal, inexpensive and fast. From its experimental launch in October 2008, some 4,000 cases have been resolved by these Small Claims Courts. Spurred by their success, we have launched the Small Claims Courts nationwide. If they continue to succeed — and there is no reason they will not — these Small Claims Courts could completely unclog the dockets in our first and second Level Courts in two or three years time," Puno emphasized.

"In 2009, my third and last year in office, I called for a summit to address the need to protect the right of our people to a balanced and healthy environment. This time, I asked our regional trial court judges to backstop the High Court. Again, after the Summit, we came out with new writs to protect our environment — the Writ of Kalikasan and the Writ of Continuing Mandamus, which can be filed by any natural or juridical person whose right to a balanced and healthful ecology has been violated or threatened with violation. We have converted all our trial courts into environmental courts to stop our environmental degradation; experts agree that the greatest threat to human existence today is not terrorism, but environmental degradation. For the record, the Philippines is the only country in the whole world with this kind of remedial writ to protect the environment. Indeed, many legal jurisdictions are now studying our Writ of Kalikasan for adoption in their soil," the outgoing Chief Justice added.

He also said that he was proud of the fact that the SC participated in the making of several landmark decisions during his term.

"Let me just mention two, which I believe saved the nation from being torn apart. First is our Decision annulling the controversial Memorandum of Agreement – Ancestral Domain Agreement between the Republic and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a ponencia of Madam Justice Conchita Carpio Morales. Without that Decision, the Philippines would have been dismembered. And the second is our Decision in MMDA vs. Concerned Citizens of Manila Bay, a ponencia of Mr. Justice Presbitero Velasco where we ordered government to clean and maintain Manila Bay and to immediately act on its duties and obligation. Here for the first time, we wielded the writ of continuing mandamus to protect the environmental rights of our people. That Decision has earned the plaudits of environmentalists the world over," Puno stressed.

"Finally, I am glad that after more than one hundred years of its existence, the Supreme Court was able to promulgate its Internal Rules before the end of my term. These Internal Rules are important, if only because they will lend greater transparency to the inner workings of the High Court. Hopefully, the shroud of mystery that veils its processes will be no more, and no more will be the public misunderstandings of its procedure," the Chief Justice concluded. (PNA)



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