SC should be a constitutional court: ex-Ateneo law dean

Posted at 07/26/2012 7:56 PM | Updated as of 07/27/2012 10:00 PM

MANILA - A former dean of the Ateneo Law School believes the Supreme Court, like the US Federal Supreme Court, should focus on being a constitutional court which will decide on important constitutional issues and should speak "like thunder" when it sets the law or affirms a policy.

Cesar Villanueva, who was dean of the Jesuit school for 7 years, said the high court should not be burdened by so many criminal or civil cases which should be limited to
the level of the Court of Appeals.

If he is chosen as Chief Justice, he said his top priority would be to unite the Supreme Court and to draw up a strategic road map on judicial reforms.

He said he will work with 14 other justices to "ensure as much as possible that the Supreme Court becomes a constitutional court" which concentrates on important cases, unless there are cases involving grave abuse of discretion of the executive or legislative branches of government.

He added the courts should use sparingly its power to check grave abuse of discretion.

Asked about his judicial philosophy in brief, he said he wants a judicairy that "serves primarily the needs of justice in all its aspects."

When it comes to fundamental rights, he said the SC should take, as it has taken, an "activist role" to ensure there is no derogation of the bill of rights enshrined in
the Constitution.

But when it comes to other rights, such as economic rights, he said the SC must take a passive role since these issues are best addressed by the executive and legislative departments.

He said the judiciary, being one of the 3 main pillars of government, should help usher a better life for the people by guarding important precepts in the Constitution.

Unlike the US Constitution, Villanueva said the Philippine Constitution has many economic provisions, and the role of the SC is to make sure these are followed.

A Villanueva court, he said, would be one where the judiciary allows itself to work with other branches of government on achieving a just and humane society.

Commercial law expert

Villanueva, a certified public accountant, said his expertise in commercial law does not mean he is not well-rounded enough to become Chief Justice. He said many principles of commercial law have to do with contract law and constitutional law.

He said a lawyer cannot be one of the best or be a great mind if he or she is the best in only one field.

He pointed out he has also been engaged in corporate litigation.

He also spoke at length about his work since 2003 in the Philippine Judicial Academy (PhilJA), the educational arm of the Supreme Court, in promoting reforms in the judiciary through training of personnel.

He said he does not consider himself "exactly as an outsider" due to his work with incumbent justices in the PhilJA. He suggested that PhilJA be regionalized so that more staff can be trained.

Villanueva, who now works in the executive branch advising, monitoring and coordinating policies on government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs), said an "outsider who comes from the executive" branch may be what is needed to mend ties between the executive branch and the judiciary.

He said he accepted the nomination by the Philippine Trial Lawyers Association since he believes the judiciary is at a crossroads following the divisive Corona impeachment trial, and he wants the public to believe in the search process so that democracy can continue to march on.

Responding to a question from the public on fraternities, Villanueva said when he was dean of the Ateneo Law School, he made sure disciplinary rules were enforced and
law students were presented with better activities other than those of fraternities. This includes encouraging students to join local and international moot competitions, being part of church groups as well as writing for law journals.

Corruption, low pay

He lamented that the judiciary gets less than 2% of the national budget. If the republic expects the judiciary to dispense justice the best way possible, he said judges and justices should be paid well.

On how corruption can be reduced, he said rules have to be streamlined so there will be less discretion and more transparency. He said the judiciary should adopt a zero-tolerance policy on corruption and should work with the National Bureau of Investigation and the Ombudsman on the conduct of lifestyle checks.

"In the end, you can't stamp it [corruption] out entirely but you can control it," he said.