Even without prodding from the executive branch, according to the chief magistrate, the judiciary is purging its ranks of the corrupt.
Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin issued the statement as the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency refused to provide the Supreme Court with the names of 13 judges suspected of involvement in the illegal drug trade. The PDEA said it was still validating the information on the 13, but there is speculation that the agency simply does not want to tip off the “narco judges.”
For the same reason, the PDEA has also declined to name state prosecutors on its narco list. The Department of Justice, which supervises the prosecution service, has said it would initiate a probe only when the PDEA provides the validated information.
The illegal drug trade, however, is not the only source of corruption in the judiciary. Practically every court case, every ruling and temporary restraining order can be a source of dirty money. The corruption has been around for a long time, resisting every effort to excise the rot. Crooked magistrates were called hoodlums in robes long before Joseph Estrada openly lambasted them during his short-lived presidency.
Even the Supreme Court has had its share of corruption scandals. A private lawyer is widely seen as the eminence grise of the high tribunal and the rest of the judiciary, getting whatever ruling he wants.
The corruption has reinforced perceptions that the country’s judicial system is heavily stacked in favor of those who can afford the best justice that money can buy. It has spawned jokes that in this country, it’s good to know the law, but it’s better to know the judge.
The weakness of the rule of law has encouraged criminality, scared away investors and bred social injustices that have aggravated poverty and fueled insurgencies. It’s no coincidence that the wealthiest and most progressive economies also have clean and efficient judicial systems and can truthfully declare that the rule of law prevails.
In the Philippines, the seeds of corruption are usually planted and judicial independence is compromised from the start, with politicians and special interest groups demanding a say in the appointment of judges. There is no meritocracy in the judiciary, and the results show in the disappointing administration of justice.
Battling judicial corruption in this country is a daunting challenge. Any serious effort in this direction deserves every support it can get.