I am pleased to meet all of you during this two-day National Conference on Court-Annexed/Referred Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Mechanisms. As I go through the process of preparing for retirement from the highest judicial office in the land, I have become very busy. I could not, however, decline the invitation of Justice Ameurfina A. Melencio Herrera, our esteemed chancellor of the Philippine Judicial Academy. Besides, I am always delighted to be in the company of peacemakers. Just looking at your radiant and smiling faces gives me the assurance that there is always a workable and satisfactory solution to any problem in the hands of able, imaginative, patient and committed mediators like you. Sabi nga ng theme ninyo, “Ayusin and Gusot, Habaan ang Pasensiya.”
Let me begin by relating three incidents in the life of a fictional character, whom I will call Hukom Juan Suplado.
One early morning while our judge was having breakfast at home, he was visited by a lawyer with a multi-billion peso case before his sala. Aghast over the intrusion, Hukom Suplado asked the lawyer: “Why are you here? Don’t you know it is unethical to talk with a judge about a pending case outside the courtroom and in the absence of the opposing lawyer?”
The lawyer smiled and answered: “Your Honor, I did not come to speak with you about my case. But if you will look outside your window, you will see a sparkling 2006 Mercedes Benz.”
“That is worse, because you have come to bribe me!” the magistrate exclaimed. Unperturbed, the lawyer replied with a chuckle: “No, Your Honor. I am not giving you the car. I am selling it to you.”
“And how much is the car?” His Honor asked.
“One thousand pesos,” the smart attorney answered.
“In that case,” Hukom Suplado said, “I will buy two!”
Later that morning in his court, Hukom Suplado conducted a hearing. Being examined was a witness who did not speak English; hence, the questions and the answers had to be translated by the court interpreter.
The witness was asked by his counsel: “When you reached the place where the killing took place, what did you saw?” The question was translated by the interpreter: “Ang tanong ng abogado ay, noong dumating kayo sa pinangyarihan ng patayan, ano ang nilagari ninyo?”
Hukom Suplado was irritated at the wrong translation, so he corrected it by saying, “Ang tanong ay ganito: Nang dumating kayo sa pinangyarihan ng patayan, ano ang tinahi ninyo?”
After hearing the murder case, the judge moved on to a civil matter involving two women, who both claimed to be the mother of an infant. Such a dilemma is reminiscent of the problem brought to King Solomon.
When the case was called for hearing, the judge asked the two claimants to stand up, but nobody responded. In his irritation, he banged the gavel and boomed: “I am ordering the parties in this case to stand up and approach the bench.”
Slowly, an old man of about 75 years with white hair and a frail body limped towards His Honor. The judge was more irritated. “Hindi po kayo, Lolo. Ang tinatawag ko ay ang dalawang babaeng partido sa kaso.”
The old man continued walking towards the bench. When he was near enough, he said, “Kagalanggalang na hukom, patay na po ang dalawang babae, nguni’t partido rin po ako rito. Ako po iyong sanggol na pinag-aawayan nila!”
These three apocryphal incidents in the life of Hukom Juan Suplado may be funny, but they illustrate the most common complaints against the judiciary: corruption, incompetence and delay.
ACID Problems in the Judiciary
These three problems of corruption, incompetence and delay, along with limited access to justice by the poor, have been the special focus of my chief justicehip. As you may recall, when I took my oath as Chief Justice on December 21, 2005, I vowed to continue and revitalize the Action Program for Judicial Reform (APJR), with emphasis on the problems corroding the administration of justice. I referred to these problems of the judiciary as ACID: (1) limited access to justice by the poor, (2) corruption, (3) incompetence, and (4) delay in the delivery of quality justice.
The Problem of Delay
The significance of court-annexed or court-referred alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms cannot be overemphasized in relation to the problem of delay in the delivery of quality justice. Factors behind this lingering predicament of our courts are many. As to its sources, they may be classified as follows: (1) those that are systemic, hence arising from our very system of governance; and (2) those that are man-made or caused by people involved in litigation.
The systematic causes of court delays may be attributed to the very nature of our adversarial system of litigation patterned after the United States of America. This system requires due process and deliberation before judicial decisions can be rendered. Translated into court mechanics, requirements involve: (1) the proper issuance and service of summonses and subpoenas; (2) the grant of fixed periods within which to answer complaints and charges; (3) the conduct of trials with the assistance of lawyers; (4) the tedious process of examining and cross-examining witnesses in open court; (5) the formulation of a set of rules to determine the admissibility and the weight of evidence; and (6) the rendition of neatly composed decisions (a) that must be personally written by judges; and (b) that must state the facts and the law upon which they are based. Great care is also observed in safeguarding the parties’ constitutional rights which are essential ingredients of quality justice. These rights are to be protected, unless they are voluntarily waived by the parties concerned.
On the other hand, delays come from any of the following persons: (1) the judges; (2) the litigants and their lawyers; or (3) the court officials supervising judges and other judicial personnel.
Often, litigants and their lawyers use, misuse and abuse the Rules of Court to defeat the very objective of our legal system: fair, speedy and adequate justice for all. When they learn that their cases are weak, they resort to all sorts of dilatory tactics in the hope of tiring out, discouraging, or bankrupting their opponents.
Litigants also exploit our open-ended appellate system. Because of the liberality of the system of appeals in our country, they never give up and tenaciously pursue their cases all the way up to the Highest Court.
Addressing Delay Through ADR
To address the problem of delay, resort to alternative dispute resolution methods—such as negotiation, conciliation, mediation and arbitration—have been made over the years.
The Supreme Court is actively behind efforts to institutionalize ADR mechanisms. In Purefoods Corporation v. Court of Appeals, it grieved over the fact that the “simple case” between the parties “could have been resolved through mediation and conciliation during its infancy stage, had the parties been earnest in expediting the disposal of this case. They opted, however, to resort to full court proceedings and denied themselves the benefits of alternative dispute resolution, thus making the process arduous and long drawn.”
The dispute involved the purchase and the installation of generators to alleviate the effects of the power crisis in 1992. The case was finally decided only in the year 2000, when the crisis was already over and the generators no longer needed by the buyer.
Upon the recommendation of the PhilJA, the Supreme Court resolved to integrate court-annexed mediation as a mandatory component of pretrial at the trial court level. Its adoption is already covered by a number of court issuances. To make it work as an effective mechanism for settling disputes and to lend a judicial character to the proceeding, the Court has seen it fit to place mediation under the auspices of the trial courts.
The Supreme Court has also recently approved recourse to mediation at the level of the Court of Appeals. Thus, appellate court mediation is now underway. The need for the parties’ agreement at the appellate level was explained in my exposition on Magbanua v. Uy, as follows:
“A reciprocal concession inherent in a compromise agreement assures benefits for the contracting parties. For the defeated litigant, obvious is the advantage of a compromise after final judgment. Liability arising from the judgment may be reduced. As to the prevailing party, a compromise agreement assures receipt of payment. Litigants are sometimes deprived of their winnings because of unscrupulous mechanisms meant to delay or evade the execution of a final judgment.”
In Magbanua, a party entered into a Compromise Agreement on the amount to be paid after final judgment had already been rendered. The party then sought to recover under the terms of the court’s decision. The Court upheld the legality, though not the prudence, of the Compromise Agreement, although entered into after final judgment. Indeed, even when there has been a final decision on a case, the parties may still enter into a settlement, and the agreement they enter into would be given effect in the execution of the award.
I am pleased to learn that the PhilJA, in seeking creative ways to promote mediation, has come up with a judicial dispute resolution mechanism. Under the rules of mediation, the active role assumed by judges is likely to promote the speedy disposition of cases, considering their perceived ascendancy over the parties.
I am equally delighted that our PhilJA has also begun to study the feasibility of implementing a court-annexed arbitration. The use of any mode of ADR as a substitute for litigation is always welcome in the administration of justice. Arbitration would also be less time-consuming, less tedious, less confrontational, and more productive of goodwill and lasting relationships. Notably, what may work for some parties may not work for others. Thus, arbitration may serve as a complement to mediation or as a substitute when the latter fails.
I strongly believe that an out-of-court settlement of a controversy usually works well for the parties and the courts. It is fast and efficient; at the same time, it decongests court dockets, thereby allowing judges to concentrate on the bigger issues of national interest. Thus, in LM Power Engineering Corporation v. Capitol Industrial Construction Groups, I wrote thus:
“Being an inexpensive, speedy and amicable method of settling disputes, arbitration—along with mediation, conciliation and negotiation—is encouraged by the Supreme Court. Aside from unclogging judicial dockets, arbitration also hastens the resolution of disputes, especially of the commercial kind. It is thus regarded as the “wave of the future” in international civil and commercial disputes. Brushing aside a contractual agreement calling for arbitration between the parties would be a step backward.
“Consistent with the above-mentioned policy of encouraging alternative dispute resolution methods, courts should liberally construe arbitration clauses. Provided such clause is susceptible of an interpretation that covers the asserted dispute, an order to arbitrate should be granted. Any doubt should be resolved in favor of arbitration.”
The Court supports arbitration by encouraging its use in most civil and commercial controversies. Thus, it encourages ADR, especially in business transactions. It always defers to contractual provisions by which the parties voluntarily agree to refer to arbitral bodies disputes that may arise in the course of their relations. For these reasons, this concept has been integrated into the many judge-to-judge dialogues, in which we have had to stress the importance of arbitration in de-clogging court dockets and in speeding up the delivery of quality justice.
Most of you here are court officials and court employees who are also mediators. Others are individuals driven by the same mission. Your work is aptly described by the theme of this conference. “Ayusin ang gusot, habaan ang pasensya.” To be successful peacemakers, you must exude professionalism and practice patience. As facilitators in settling cases, you must determine the cause of the disputes and seek ways to appease all the parties. Accept the difficulty of your work and have the persistence to reach for an amicable settlement.
While the financial rewards may not be too enticing, it is the knowledge of promoting peace that will bring self-worth and true happiness. Remember that your thoughts and actions will continue to live on in the hearts and minds of those who, by your efforts, have been led back to peaceful relations with friends, neighbors, business associates, clients, or erstwhile lovers.
I must commend Justice Amor, DCA Bernardo T. Ponferrada (head of the Judicial Reforms Office of PhilJA), and their office staff for their tireless efforts in advancing alternative modes of settling disputes. I also thank all mediators who have tirelessly worked for the decongestion of court dockets. The results of your toil will no doubt be presented in this conference.
I am convinced that all of you have helped my chief justiceship in addressing the problems plaguing the judiciary, particularly the “D” in ACID, or the fight against delay in the delivery of quality judgments.
Finally, I thank our developmental partners—the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and The Asia Foundation—for supporting our efforts at development and reform.
As I close, let me remind you that the road to peace may be difficult, but you will find comfort in knowing that you are not alone in this worthwhile endeavor.
Mabuhay kayong lahat! Maraming salamat po.
Keynote address delivered by Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban during the National Conference on Court-Annexed/Referred ADR Mechanisms on November 27, 2006 at the Century Park Hotel, Vito Cruz, Manila.
GR No. 128069, 389 Phil. 204, June 19, 2000.
Administrative Matter No. 01-10-5-SC-PHILJA dated October 16, 2001, establishing the Philippine Mediation Center; and designating the PhilJA as the component unit of the Philippine Supreme Court for court-referred and court-related mediation and other alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. AM No. 03-1-09-SC, July 13, 2004; AM No. 04-03-15-SC, March 23, 2004; AC No. 20-02, April 24, 2002.
GR No. 161003, May 6, 2005.
GR No. 141833, March 26, 2003.