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Digging in

By CHAY FLORENTINO-HOFILEÑA

Siege mentality. This can be the worst mindset that the Supreme Court could adopt at this point in time.

When one feels victimized or constantly under attack, self-defense mechanisms automatically kick in. The temptation to use power and privilege at one’s disposal becomes stronger. The temptation to group think and adopt the attitude of “us versus them” becomes harder to resist. And the tendency to ostracize whoever is in the minority or who dares adopt a contrary view becomes tougher to counter.

It is during times like these that character and integrity go through a litmus test. As they say, you are at your strongest when you are at your weakest.

Certainly, justices in the Supreme Court, and even lower courts for that matter, deserve sympathy for the tough task of poring through pages of legalese and rendering decisions that are potentially life-altering.

As journalist Marites Vitug had previously written in her book, Shadow of Doubt, the high court is a repository of at least 4,000 new cases filed each year. Citing statistics from the Judicial Records Office, she said that as of 2007, the Supreme Court had close to 6,700 pending cases. All these added up to about 11,000 cases in 2007.

On average, about half of the cases are resolved, translating to a caseload of about 500 per justice. Even then, not all pending cases are decided upon. This would explain why judicial decisions are rarely a hundred percent “original.” This would likewise explain why legal researchers are crucial cogs in the judicial wheel.

Because justices are not robots or mechanical toys, they will necessarily be dependent upon their assistants who must, like their bosses, possess high intellect and integrity. Anything less, and they are unworthy of trust and full confidence. They are the mirror image of their justice bosses, especially in the draft decisions that they write. If the executive branch has a “little President” in the President’s executive secretary, the judicial branch has a “little Justice” in a justice’s legal assistant.

The public has very high expectations of justices, putting them on a pedestal for their intellect, integrity, and wisdom. They are subject to harsh scrutiny and criticism because although they are not elected officials, they wield tremendous power over the lives of ordinary people. Surely justices know that power equates to accountability. It is the same standard for the executive and legislative branches of government.

The big fuss over the plagiarism issue is not about debasement or persecution of the courts. Rather, it is about watching over the excesses and lapses of justices who, on account of their decisions, can either help fashion new beginnings or simply shatter lives—as in the case of the comfort women in the Vinuya case.

It is all right to be criticized and there is absolutely nothing wrong with owning up to a grievous mistake. Esteemed justices, there is no need to dig in.

Just like Justice Mariano del Castillo, your critics do not have any malicious intent. They hold only the best of intentions that include upholding the standards of the “high” court. Newsbreak, independent journalism from the Philippines

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