Sereno to judges: Stay apolitical, faithful to rule of law

MANILA -- Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno asked judges to remain faithful to their sworn duty to defend the Constitution, the rule of law and judicial independence, and resist political pressures amid trying times.

These are challenging times and it is difficult to keep on saying no to the powers that be, but this is part of the sacred trust for which we have made our vows, Sereno said in a speech during the unveiling of the new three-storey Regional Trial Courts Building in Valenzuela City on Monday.

Sereno reminded her fellow magistrates of the difficult vows they made when they took their oath of office, including their duty to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law dictated never by political winds, but by our conscience and the power of our convictions.

Apart from being incorruptible and committed to the protection of the weak and their rights and the dignity of every citizen, Sereno said that judges must zealously guard our independence as jurists notwithstanding the political consequences.

Sereno urged not only the judges and court personnel but also prosecutors, public defenders and private lawyers to strive harder to comply with the Speedy Trial Act and implement the continuous trial rules, which seek to dispose of all criminal cases in as early as six months.

The Chief Justice said it is not right for litigants, particularly detention prisoners, to suffer from a slow judicial system.

It is the duty of government to make the system work, not that of the detained accused. The detained accused has nothing to do with the process, she pointed out.

We must work together to make sure that we have a speedy trial, where the rights of the accused are observed, and the witnesses, the victims and the victims' families are able to present their cases with enough evidence whether we reach a conviction or acquittal, she added.

The inauguration of the PHP81-million building, which houses nine courts, coincides with the 394th Foundation Day Anniversary of Valenzuela City. The city was named after Dr. Pio Valenzuela, who was part of the Katipunan triumvirate, along with Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo.

Sereno expressed hope that the new hall of justice � where the city government and the Supreme Court invested PHP64 million and PHP17 million, respectively � would ensure that the people who we serve will have their rights vindicated, their life, liberty and prosperity secured, and have the dignity that every citizen should expect under the rule of law.

According to her, the city government's support to put up the building is a testament to its leaders and people's commitment to justice, rule of law and love of country.

The country's top magistrate thanked and lauded the people of Valenzuela City and their leaders headed by Mayor Rex Gatchalian, judges and court personnel, and Supreme Court officials for working together to establish the high-tech building that has a local area network, internet and wi-fi facilities, which are building blocks of the judiciary's court automation program.

Our aim is to make all courts electronic courts or eCourts, which means that like in advanced countries, we can process our cases through apps, Sereno said.

Under the eCourt system, Sereno envisioned a future where lawyers could file pleadings by uploading them online in the comfort of their offices, and check the status of their cases and view their online case records through their computers or smart phones. Imagine a future where all notices to parties are automatically sent via email or SMS, she said.

Imagine judges issuing almost all court orders immediately after cases are heard. Imagine a future where judges managing their court dockets and accessing all their records in the comfort of their homes, Sereno added.

She said the judiciary did not only invest in facilities, but also in people responsible for dispensing justice and in restoring people's confidence in the criminal justice system.

Starting next year, Sereno said that after the pilot implementation in some courts, the budget for the maintenance and other operating expenses would be released directly to trial courts.

Sereno also cited the efforts to increase the number of decongestion officers to help declog court dockets, as well as the hiring of contractual stenographers to augment the existing judicial workforce.

Source: Philippine News Agency