Interview: Rafael Morales

What immediate reforms in the judicial system would address congestion in the courts and accessibility to litigants?

RAFAEL MORALES: Congestion in the judiciary system would be solved by filling up vacancies in the lower courts, upgrading court facilities, and enforcing the deadlines for the disposition of pending cases. Filing fees should be reduced to make the courts more accessible and affordable to litigants.

How can the region approach the harmonisation of legal systems in anticipation of the forthcoming ASEAN integration?

MORALES: The harmonisation of legal systems on the whole is a long shot. However, the harmonisation of laws is feasible, particularly those dealing with commerce and trade. In fact, one can see steps made in this direction in the region, although they are not necessarily driven by ASEAN integration. For instance, anti-money laundering laws are fundamentally shaped by the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force on Anti-Money Laundering.

What judicial initiatives should be prioritised to strengthen political stability and anti-corruption measures in the country?

MORALES: In respect of political stability, the Constitution of the Philippines has, in fact, expanded the power of judicial review. It is now the duty of the Supreme Court to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion on the part of any branch or instrumentality of government and, if there has been, to rectify the situation. If this power is judiciously exercised by the Supreme Court, political stability on the whole will be strengthened. On anti-corruption, the Supreme Court should continue its drive to rid the judiciary of corruption. Here, it is necessary for us to raise substantially the compensation of judges in order to enhance their independence and make them immune to corruption.

How can judicial reform boost the attractiveness of the country for local and foreign investors?

MORALES: Local and foreign investors all want predictability and consistency in the judicial process. They want a judge to follow and observe precedents in the course of settling their disputes, as well as a Supreme Court that is not above the law. To be sure, the attractiveness of the country to investors will be enhanced if these qualities and values are institutionalised in and by the judiciary.

To what extent does the push for transparency and corporate governance affect legal expediency and business sector confidence?

MORALES: There is no question that businessmen and investors want transparency and good governance firmly in place in the country. The executive and legislative branches are always faulted for their lack of political will to move in this direction. It is high time that we ask the third branch of government, led by the Supreme Court, to demonstrate the judicial will to put its own house in order and restore, once and for all, transparency and accountability in the judiciary. Certainly, good governance is for every institution or organisation.

What are the primary obstacles generated by lack of funding allocated within the national budget to the judiciary?

MORALES: Lack of funding affects the quality and independence of the judiciary. Indeed, the third branch of the government deserves a respectable share of the national budget. As it is, the salaries of judges in the Philippines pale in comparison to their counterparts in the region. In the absence of a significant upward adjustment in the compensation package of judges, the judiciary will continue to have difficulty in attracting good applicants to its ranks. So long as our judges are not financially stable, the independence of the judiciary is not guaranteed.