POSTSCRIPT / April 2, 2009 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Dick, go to Abu lair and plead personally

MAKE-OR-BREAK: As I write this, the Sulu situation is still fluid. But the sight of a tearful Sen. Dick Gordon, who is also chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross, has conjured up a bizarre scene now playing in my mind.

The scenario: Dick goes to Sulu on a make-or-break mission — to personally plead with the Abu Sayyaf to release the three workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross that the bandits have been holding.

After advancing notice to the Abus and asking government forces not to move in, Dick shows up in the kidnappers’ lair with nothing but a duffel bag of toiletries, extra underwear, mosquito repellant, a big bottle of water and a mobile phone.

Drawing on his renowned quick, logical thinking and persuasiveness, Dick then submits to an acid test as a negotiator and leader of men.

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OPPORTUNITY: Dick could convert this crisis into an opportunity to demonstrate that reason and good faith could work wonders when used or invoked for others.

The worst that could happen is for the Abus to grab and execute him. But at this point in his life marked by disasters — personal and otherwise — Dick could gamble and throw this last card. If I were him, I would.

On the other hand, the best possible result is for the Abus to have an excuse to release the Red Cross workers in a face-saving exit from a situation that has earned universal condemnation for them.

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ALIVE AND TALKING: Between the two extremes — Dick’s being killed and his taking home the hostages alive — are the possibilities that (1) the Abus would hold him in place of the Red Cross hostages, (2) hold all four of them for more leverage, and (3) other dire variations.

But as long as all of them are alive, that should be good enough. That would enable Dick to continue talking to them directly and both sides to learn from each other. In a crisis situation, being able to talk is important.

If he embarks on this perilous mission, it is important that the government cooperates and that no joker meddles to spoil his chances of springing the Red Cross team.

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C.A. BACKLOG: Associate Justice Mario L. Guariña III of the Court of Appeals wrote us to take exception to our Postscript calling attention to the case backlog of the 43 justices in the CA’s Manila station.

In a statistical report dated March 11, Guariña had a score of 14 cases decided and 204 still unresolved. He said the cold figures were misleading.

Under the Constitution, a justice must render a decision within one year after a case assigned to him is submitted for resolution. Delay is considered a form of injustice.

In the CA, only Presiding Justice Conrado M. Vasquez Jr. and Justice Portia A. Hormachuelos have a zero backlog. The entire court has 621 cases decided and 4,446 cases awaiting decision.

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GHOST WRITERS: But Justice Guariña cautioned us against making “easy assumptions” regarding backlogs of justices.

He said CA statistics “do not tell whether the decisions are written by him (the justice concerned) or for him by his court attorneys.” This distinction is important, he said, because “a decision must be written personally and directly by the judge.”

He added: “To state the case reductio ad absurdum, suppose a justice spends the whole day in the shopping mall, but when he returns to his office, there are already five decisions on his table prepared by his court attorneys. He signs them in one minute. Presto, five decisions are automatically recorded in his name in the court statistics.

“Is this what we want? Yet we may be encouraging this result if we keep on publicizing the court statistics and parading them at face value. We will be unfair to the justices who make decisions personally and give a case the time and attention it deserves.”

Guariña’s revelation that some decisions are ghostwritten by authors other than the justices themselves merits an inquiry.

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TOPNOTCHER: Among the three CA justices nominated to the Supreme Court, Lucas P. Bersamin has the biggest backlog with 151 cases still unresolved and only seven cases decided.

In comparison, fellow nominee Justice Martin Villarama Jr. has four cases pending and 13 resolved, while Justice Hakim Abdulwahid has nine cases pending and 14 cases decided.

Insiders told us that many cases of laggard CA justices have been pending for more than a year — in violation of the Constitution. The Supreme Court should act on this blot on the judiciary.

Also, the Judicial and Bar Council that nominates SC justices should explain why it glossed over the bulging backlogs of some nominees. Do connections and PR also operate in the JBC?

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JUSTICES LIABLE: In the last JBC interview, a nominee was asked how long it would take him to dispose of his pending cases, and he reportedly said in about three years! And this justice wants to go to the SC and leave his pile behind?

Judiciary sources have told us that failure to comply with the one-year deadline constitutes gross inefficiency and makes the lazybone justice administratively liable.

Under the rules, lawyers said, undue delay in rendering a decision is punishable by suspension for one to three months or a fine of P10,000 to P20,000.

If the cases remain undecided for years, the failure to decide becomes serious misconduct that would justify dismissal from the service.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 2, 2009)

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