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Speech delivered by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A.

Sereno during the

Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) 68th Inaugural Meeting and
Induction of Officers on January 25, 2017 at the Manila Peninsula, Makati City

Thank you, friends. Please take your seats. Everyone should be comfortable

because I will try to communicate as much as I can without the remaining minutes

of this meeting.

So allow me to start right off by addressing your questions on the direction

and accomplishments of the judiciary. And I have entitled my speech today

Mapping the Future of Judicial Reform. I hope it recognizes the fact that MAP

(Management Association of the Philippines)I dont think there is a better

organization with a better acronymso Mapping the Future of Judicial Reform.

This will be I think my fifth speech before a large group of businessmen and

women since I assumed the Office of the Chief Justice. Some of you may have already

heard me talk about judicial reform and have heard me give updates. I have also met

some of you in various meetings, and you had conveyed to me the willingness to

help in judicial reform. And the forms you had discussed with me ranged from

outright offers to contribute financially to some important projects to rendering of

time and service, sponsorship of projects, support of budget proposals before

Congress, and even gathering support from the administration and civil society

organizations All of these, I can assure you, have been deeply appreciated. But I have

always said that for everything, there is a season. So some of those offers have

actually been made more concrete by engagement and participation in some

communities that I have formed in the Supreme Court, and I am talking especially of

the judicial reform initiatives participation in some of our integrity discussions. The

regular briefings that we had been conducting are all intended to actually inform

you that we are always cognizant of the concerns and complaints of the business

community. And I thank Baby Nuesa [Head, Judicial Reform Initiative] for affirming

that we have this continued engagementa very professional and independent one

at that.

Whenever I speak of trying to keep a distance between the judiciary and the

business community, I have been met with understanding by you. And you have

allowed me sufficient space so that I and my colleagues as well as the officers of the

Court can work on judicial reform without any suspicion on anybodys part about

the proper bounds of our relationship and of course the fact that you continue to

recognize our gains even from a distancethat is most highly encouraging.

Now let me go to the meat of my speech and what is the future that I envision

for the judiciary and how far are we from that future. And I will give you eight points

that you need to look at in the future.

One, I believe that we can have a future in which the business communities

trust in the Philippine judiciary will be high enough that one day, we will see

increasing numbers of business contracts specify that the venue for the settlement

of disputes involving those contracts shall be one of the judiciarys key reform

courts. By this, I mean a venue such as Quezon City for now and additional metro

cities venues including Makati in the near future where the improvement in the

speed and quality of litigation has been remarkable. I know that you may be

skeptical at this point about such a future because the trend of course is for larger

and larger contracts to specify commercial arbitration as the mode of dispute

settlement. But let me give you the reason why I have hope for that kind of future.

For one, there is already such a phenomenon that is happening.

One reputable lawyer related that his recent court experiences in Quezon City

had been very positive as some of his cases had been tried for a short as six months.

Because of these positive experiences, he has been increasingly recommending to

his clients that the venue for contract disputes should be Quezon City. What did this

lawyer mean by positive court experiences?

In 2012, the Quezon City Practice Guidelines was approved by the Supreme

Court. The Guidelines limit the kinds of pleadings that can be filed, prohibited

dilatory motions, observed strict timeframes. They cut down the length of time a

case is tried from 523 days to 194 days in civil cases. That is well-documented in our

reports. (applause) But because we have seen the recent phenomenon of some cases

being tried in as short a time as six months, we have even greater ambitions for the

future. In 2012 also, the Court approved the Judicial Affidavit Rule. Our judges

implemented it enthusiastically. It resulted in reducing the time for presenting the

testimonies by witnesses by about two-thirds in Quezon City where the Program

was piloted. Again, this is well-documented.

In 2013, the Court also started to implement the Electronic Courts (e-Courts)

Program by piloting it also in Quezon City. It is a case management system that

records all incidents in an IT (information technology) system that shows the age of

each case and highlights all incidents requiring action. It notifies judges of

deliverables and deadlines, provides them with templates of orders and decisions to

fast track their work. And they can issue order immediately after hearing. They can

target aged cases immediately and ultimately dramatically reduce case backlog.

As of December 2016, the Supreme Court with the support of the USAID

(United States Agency for International Development) and the ABA-ROLI (American

Bar Association-Rule of Law Initiative) project has deployed e-Courts in 197 courts

in eight cities nationwide. By 2017, this project will have deployed e-Courts in 297

courts in ten cities covering 30% of the trial courts total caseload. In 20182019, e-

Courts will be further rolled out in the rest of the National Capital Region as well as

in Regions 3 and 4A with the support of the European Union and also some of the

national budget. Thats such a dramatic rollout of an IT infrastructure system where

in our situationwe have more than 2,000 courts nationwide in more than 750

locationsyou will have to admit that there is something very dramatic that is

going on in one area of government because the e-Courts, all these 197 courts have

now reported dramatic improvements, all without exception in their ability to

dispose and management their dockets. Can you imagine at the end of 2019 when

the rollout will have been able to manage around 40% of our dockets. Now, all of

these e-Courts have been supplied with sufficient laptops, printers, and connectivity.

And so they were able to adapt automated hearing systema game-changing

initiative previously deemed impossible in the Philippines.

Remember for all of you practitioners, you go to a hearing and your

experience has been, this judge will say, Your motion has been submitted for

resolution. And you would have to wait for around three months before you can

receive a written copy of the resolution of that motion. That is no longer the norm

for e-Courts and all those courts that are employing automated hearing.

The norm now is as soon as the motion is heard, the judge rules in open court,

the order is immediately inputted in the computer with all of them present. One

judge even bought a screen and put it behind her so that the order was being

inputted live with all the editing, it is printed to the computer of the stenographer or

the researcher, and it is immediately served to the parties right there on the spot in

as little as 15 minutes. So we do away with the snail mail system. Im not talking

about the long decisions because for long decisions, you have to go through all the

records, and you have to footnote all the records. But Im talking about motions the

resolution and hearing of which can eat up a great chunk of the total litigation time.

Can you imagine how psychologically that is a major breakthrough for the

practitioners who experienced that? Some have even taken selfies of them with the

orders that are immediately being served to them. Some detention prisoners have

even cried in open court because as soon as they hear that they are being released,

the order for their release is also handed down to them. (applause)

So this is going to be the norm of the future. In 2013, also a Decongestion

Program called the Hustisyeah! was piloted in Quezon City. At the end of the

first milestone measurement after 14 months from the start of the

implementation, the docket of the pilot courts dropped by an astounding 30%.

Following the success in Quezon City, Hustisyeah! was rolled out in Makati,

Manila, Pasig, Angeles, Cebu, and Davao. As of June 2016, 15,227 cases

equivalent to 36% of the targeted docket have been disposed of in these

additional cities36%nothing like this has ever happened before. And the

follow-through measure to make sure we are able to target all heavily

congested courts, we have hired 635 contractual case decongestion officers

and assigned them to all courts with heavy burdens, i.e. courts with more than

500 cases. As of December 2016, we have deployed all of them nationwide,

and it is expected to reduce the dockets of the 460 beneficiary courts and

hopefully produce the same dramatic results as those in the first seven cities.

Because of the advanced stage of reform implementation in Quezon City,

it also became inevitably the first Justice Zone. A Justice Zone is an area where

there is a minimum number of interagency coordinative reforms in the

criminal justice system. Would you believe that we were able to identify 88

action points from the time a crime is reported to the police all the way post-

conviction when the accused is rehabilitated. Now, all of these 88 pointsand

we have a large flowchart where the actions are identifiedmany of them

required interagency coordination because the delay and the inefficiency of

one will result in the breaking down of the entire system. So what is the smart

management solution? Let all the actors talk to each other and coordinate

their efforts. And that is what we have created, and that is what we are

pushing for.

For example, do you know that many of the dismissals of drugs cases is

a result of the non-appearance of police witnesses? So what we did is to

employ a simple solution: e-mail. The judges in Quezon City where it was

again piloted sends an e-mail to the central server of the PNP (Philippine

National Police) in Crame as well as the police station of the policeman

witness informing the policeman of the schedule of the hearing. If the

policeman does not appear, administrative sanctions are applied by the PNP.

(applause) So what is the result? A 97% attendance rate in Quezon City. So its

not police absence anymore that is causing the delay. It might be something

else but not the policemen anymore. And it was piloted also in Lapu-Lapu and

Angeles City in 2015 and 2016. And in all of these additional areas, the

attendance rate is still a good 77%still good. We are going to roll it out soon

in 637 courts in the NCR and in Regions 3, 5, 6, and 7. For Regions 1 and 4A,

training has commenced and will continue until the first quarter of 2017.

Also under the Justice Zone Project, we were able to have sector-wide

capacity-building initiatives such as joint trainings in criminal investigation

forensics, judicial affidavits, giving policemen templates they can use, protocol

for case management of child victims of abuse and exploitation. We likewise

developed synchronized calendars in Quezon City which contain information

on all the official activities of judges, prosecutors, and public attorneys within

the Justice Zone. So you dont have a cancellation of any hearing simply

because they were not able to look at each others calendars. We have also

facilitated PAOs (Public Attorneys Offices) deputization of Bureau of Jail and

Management paralegals where we are allowing more paralegals to help

detention prisoners especially in the most clogged courts. As a result, we have

agreed to share our inventory of all criminal cases that are pending with them.

Would you believe that the simple act of sharing our inventory helps them

also have a system for both the prosecution and the public attorneys as well?

In 2015, we implemented the Continuous Trial Guidelines in which 53

Regional Trial Courts and six Metropolitan Trial Courts in the cities of Quezon

City, Manila, Makati, Pasig, Pasay, Paraaque, Muntinlupa volunteered as pilot

courts. What do you mean by continuous trial? When you become a

continuous trial court and your case is one of those, the litigants are

prohibited from seeking postponements except on exceptional grounds. Trials

are set one day apart. It limits the promulgation of the decision to no later

than 90 days from submission of case for decision. You know what? Our data

even from this pilot Program has shown roughly 70% of these 58 courts were

able to comply with the mandatory periods set by the Rules of Court, 67%

from arraignment to pre-trial, and 91% for the promulgation for decision. So

this is a very high compliance rate.

In other words, compliance with the requirements of the Speedy Trial

Act, for the lawyers here, is no longer impossible to dream of. It used to be that

here, Philippine court litigation will always be at a snails pace. That is no

longer true. (applause) We have broken the stereotype. We have debunked the

myth. What is needed now is consistent implementation and expansion of

more covered courts nationwide until there is no doubt that judicial reform is

here to stay. Now, you see, our efforts did not go unnoticed.

The US (United States) State Department commended the

implementation of the system and considered it as a factor for elevating the

status of the Philippines in the matter of fighting human trafficking. The

International Justice Mission also announced on its website that sweeping

change is happening in the Philippine when a human trafficking conviction

was promulgated by a Makati City judge five months from the filing of the


On top of introducing all of these recent reforms, we have been

implementing, monitoring, and improving on the Enhanced Justice on Wheels

Program or the EJOW, the Courts Mediation Program, and the Small Claims

Courts system. Since its launch in 2009, EJOW has successfully improved

access to justice through mobile court hearings. From 2012 to date, EJOW has

resulted in the promulgation of 1,689 decisions, the release of 2,517 inmates,

the successful mediation of 261 cases, and the provision of legal aid to 3,568

prisoners together with medical and dental aid which we also have brought to

10,268 inmates.

Our Court-Annexed Mediationso those who are within the Alternative

Dispute Resolution circle, please notehas successfully mediated 224,985

cases or an average of 62% of the cases referred to since inception in 2002.

Now, I have spoken to many international judicial reform experts worldwide,

and they have said really our performance in Court-Annexed Mediation is a

stellar remarkable performance.

Regarding our recent moves to increase the threshold of Small Claims

courts from money claims with a ceiling of 100,000 to a new ceiling of

200,000, our first level courts were able to dispose of in one year alone,

13,264 small claimsthats in 2016. Because of the surge of case filings

however, our court dockets still continue to carry 14,078 small claims cases

because I think the problem now is this. The high success rate is bringing in a

higher demand for judicial services. So we have to work even much harder

than before. That is the lesson. Its not a very welcome thought. But it seems to

be that thats what we are facing now.

To address the rise in the influx of new drugs cases, we have just added

240 more courts to our corps of drugs courts. So all 955 RTCs are now drugs

courts. And we have yet to see the impact of these new drugs courts because

presently, the new drugs cases comprise 29% of trial courts docket


Now, to clarify, I did not come here to promote only Quezon City but to

announce to all of you that what has been happening in Quezon City courts

will be the norm of the future. In the future, I believe that the trial period

could be further shortened because of the possible consolidation of the

Quezon City Practice Guidelines and the Continuous Trial system. And that

means that lawyers will have to go back to school because the rules are

changing fast. The draft consolidated Rules feature an expansion of the Judicial

Affidavit Rule. The draft Rules will require full use of IT and the service of

pleadings and motions by private courier.

In the forefront of this initiative, of course, is the Supreme Court which

has broken historical records. The Court, for the first time in 2015, breached

the 5,000 cases marked when it disposed of 5,173 cases that year. In 2016, the

Court broke its own record by disposing 6,257 cases. So I hope please that

remarks that usually do not take off from data will stop attacking what is a
stereotypical judicial pace. And I hope that we will keep on improving that

record. So you have a Court that is working harder than ever.

It might also interest the business community that weve promulgated

the Rule of Procedure for Rehabilitation and Insolvency Cases. I will not

anymore go into that. The business executives here, you can just ask your

lawyers what it means for the speed and efficiency of handling financial

rehabilitation and insolvency cases.

We are also training our commercial court judges not only in these Rules

but also in handling disputes involving intellectual property rights. We have

also designated special cybercrime courts, and our judges are undergoing

training to learn computer forensic examination, cybercrime investigations,

and analysis of digital evidence.

Similarly noteworthy is a very recent success when we were able to

NEDA (National Economic Development Authority) to have a sectoral

approach in the justice sector. And now, under the leadership of the judiciary,

the Philippine Development Plan has dedicated a whole chapter to the justice

sector entitled Swift and Fair Administration of Justice. So you can see that

the reforms are actually broad, and they are intended to be not only deep but

broad, too.

The second point in the future I believe in. I believe we can have a future

in which the Rule of Law will be widely established, and those who make use

of shortcuts and deny the citizens right to due process are the exception. But

this future will only be possible if our partners in the criminal justice sector

agree to join us in the full embrace of the qualitative and quantitative

guidelines that the Constitution and the statutes require us to follow.

Three, I believe we can have a future in which the business community

will be looking to the judiciary to lead the way through the fair and speedy

resolution of what have formerly been very difficult areas of adjudication

land disputes and disputes related to government infrastructure. A good

percentage of trial court dockets consist of varied land cases and a great deal

of trial judges time is used up in dealing with these cases. These have

different causes of action, require the application of different procedural

Rules, different substantive laws, and distinct timelines. This variety has

become a bane as it has confused not only the litigants but the judges as well

as to which action is proper for a given set of facts. It is an open invitation to

multiplicity of suits and tarries the longest in court dockets.

We will therefore see the streamlining of Rule of Procedure, including for

land cases. And we are also looking at the possibility of special courts and the

creation of special procedure to handle government infrastructure. On this

note, allow me to debunk a persistent myth that courts are issuing too many

restraining orders against infrastructures of government. The data is from

2013 to date, the Court of Appeals has only issued only one TRO (temporary

restraining order) against a government infra project. In 2015, out of the

2,039 petitions praying for a TRO on various subject matters, only 50 TROs

were issued by the CA or only 2.5%, and none of them involved a single

government infra project. Since 2012, the Supreme Court has only issued one

TRO against a government infra project involving the common train station of

the MRT (metro rail transit). Since the 1990s, the Court has issued seven

circulars to all lower courts on the rule of issuances of TROs. So contrary to

the myth; this is a myth that persists for a reason we dont know. We have

been restraining ourselves very much when it come to government

infra[structure] projects.

Four, I believe we can have a future in which the execution of final court

judgments will be done. And as a matter, of course, in the next few months,

groups will be convening to discuss the various ways to bring about the

expedient and efficient execution of court judgments. But we will not discuss

this now for lack of time.

Five, I believe we can have a future in which complex multi-party cases

will be finished in as little as two years, whether they be civil, criminal, or

both. The sheer number of litigants in multi-party cases brings to the fore the

challenge of securing the rights of all the parties to due process.

However, we have had positive impacts when we issued the special

rules governing the Maguindanao massacre cases and regardless of the fact

that many keep on complaining about the way that the case is being handled,

look at the data. There are more than 190 accused in this case. For a criminal

case of such magnitude, out judge has been performing remarkably fast. She

has been conducting hearings continuously thrice weekly, exclusively

handling this case. The prosecution has rested, and the defense is presenting

its evidence. And look at the kind of work that these cases entail. The court

has already heard a total of 233 witnesses: 131 for the prosecution, 58 private

complainants, and 44 for the defense. It has already resolved 12 sets of formal

offers of evidence and all bail applications of the 69 accused that applied for

bail except that of Unsay Ampatuan, Jr., which has just been submitted for

resolution. The case record has reached 119 volumes, and the transcript of
stenographic notes, 55 volumes. No matter how diligent our judge has been,

what we badly need is the full and consistent cooperation of the defense and

prosecution to conclude the trial soonest. I can assure you that the judiciary

has spared no effort to expedite this case. But the objective reality of the case

speaks for itself.

In relation to this, therefore, there is a need to craft special Rules of

Procedure to streamline the rule on the filing and prosecution of class suits

and similarly massive suits. And I have some ideas here on how it can be done,

but I will not discuss this also today.

Six, we will see the judiciary truly enabled by ICT (information and

communications technology) under the judiciarys Enterprise Information

Systems (EISP) plan. E-Courts will see another level of upgrading in 2018 in

preparation for full court automation. So what will be the look of future

courts? Case records are digitized and available online. Voice recordings of

court hearings are immediate converted to written text through the use of

specialized software. Lawyers and litigants can file cases through web portals,

pay their fees online, check court documents and status of their cases through

the web, and get official notification through text or e-mail. Judges, lawyers,

and litigants can process their cases using smartphones or laptops.

Seven, we will have implemented a massive infrastructure project as we

have rehabilitated or constructed 93 halls of justice since 2012. There are still

160 projects in the pipeline with an estimated cost of P6.6 billion. We are

partaking steps to fast track procurement, hiring more engineers and

architects, increasing the staff of our Bids and Awards Committee, and hiring

procurement agents. Within the year, we hope to begin the inventory and

assessment of the status of all courthouses nationwide and get baseline data

to update our infrastructure master plan. And we will have a five-year and

ten-year master plan for the judiciary.

Eightand this is my last point about the futurewe are aware that

our reform initiatives will not take flight unless we address issues of

corruption. It is a complex problem that has to be confronted through

independent initiatives to strengthen integrity and prevent opportunities for

corruption. From 20122016, by using our disciplinary powers, the Court has

worked aggressively in this area. In that short four-year period, we have

dismissed 16 judges and one Sandiganbayan Justice, suspended 14, fined 101,

reprimanded 21, admonished 31, forfeited the benefits of three. As regards

the lower courts employees, since 2010, we have dismissed 116, admonished

42, forfeited the benefits of 35, censured three, fined 240, reprimanded 221,

suspended 227. As of September 2016 also, the Court has disbarred 40

lawyers, suspended from practice 224, suspended from practice and notarial

practice 33, suspended exclusively from notarial practice 11, reprimanded 38,

fined and reprimanded three, admonished 86, censured three, warned eight,

fined and warned 338, ordered arrested 18, and dropped and stricken of the

rolls oneall for a total of 803 penalized lawyers since 2012.

The message is not only there is this objective reality of cleansing. I

hope that the chilling message that is being sent is correctly received. So I

encourage you, clients of lawyers, to demand more ethical, straightforward,

and excellent performance from your lawyers. The Court is watching.


There are other major reform initiatives in the nomination of judges

through the Judicial and Bar Council, in judicial education and training, in all

the administrative and financial systems of the judiciary. So this is system-

wide. No area is left untouched. But we have no time to talk about them now.

Let me now get to my point so that we have a balanced view. Despite all

of these positive gains and even greater potential gains, we have to face the

reality of the daily accounts of unsolved killings, many of them committed

brazenly with public warnings against drug pushing or addiction. It is not

surprising that the perception of Rule of Law in our country has swung from

marked improvement to a downgrade. The World Justice Project of Rule of

Law Index is currently the benchmark for global perception-based studies on

the administration of justice. Our country jumped nine places in 2015, from its

rank of 60 in 2014 to 51, partly if I may humbly say as a result of judicial

reform initiatives. For the year 2016, however, our rank has gone down to 70.

While the Philippine judiciary takes its cue only from the Constitution,

laws, and jurisprudential notions of independence and justice and thus will

confine this index to an input on deciding its priorities in judicial reform. It

must take the index as an indicator of the serious erosion of trust in the

criminal justice system, in the civil justice system, and in regulatory agencies

whether singly or combined. It requires therefore that while the three

branches of government and the independent constitutional bodies to reflect

on how they have been discharging their roles in a way that has brought about

this state of affairs. The government pillars of criminal justice system, that is,

the judiciary, the Department of Justice and its attached agencies including the

National Prosecution Service and the National Bureau of Investigation, and the

Philippine National Police must come together to ponder on what kinds of

genuine changes are required to bring about real justice.

On the part of the judiciary, I can assure you that the effort to reform

has been relentless. If you believe that the judiciarys leadership is sincere,

what I will ask of you in turn is to continue to believe in the Rule of Law. It is

only when institutions faithfully comply with what the law requires can we

experience long-term stability as a country even beyond changes in

administration. At the same time, all the institutions involved in the

administration of justice are duty-bound to proactively report to the people

the improvements they are trying to carry out in their respective areas, share

with the necessary partners all the problems whose solutions require the help

of other institutions, mete out penalties for infractions when appropriate, and

create a system of rewards for exemplary public service to foster an ever-

heightening experience of service.

This is the only trajectory that we should pursue as a people. We cannot

digress from this path that our collective history and the Constitution have

marked out for us. Only by taking this path can we remain safely intact as a


I also ask you to help the judiciary defend its reforms by not confusing

our role with those of the rest in the criminal justice sector. It is the role of the

police to investigate and build evidence, that of the prosecutor to prosecute

and win the case on behalf of the state, and the role of judge is to be fair to

both the accused and the state by rendering judgment only on the basis of the

evidence. If the evidence is weak, the judge has no choice but to acquit the

accused and must not blamed.

I also ask you, before you accuse a judge of undue delay, do remember

that many times the judge cannot help but postpone a case if the prosecutor or

policeman is absent. While we have started to be strict with the

postponements requested by the prosecutors, we cannot but give them

leeway considering that there are so few prosecutors in relation to the

number of courts and the number of pending criminal cases.

I also ask you to continue supporting the various judicial reform

initiatives in which we have engaged you. I leave with the thought that to

support the judiciary is to support not only our democracy but also to

engender an environment conducive to economic growth. Any effort to

weaken the judiciary is to weaken our country. We can only ensure protection

of the rights of every citizen including those in the business community if we

have a judiciary that is truly independent and strong.

Thank you very much.