August 25, 2008

What is the Judicial, Executive and Legislative Advisory and Consultative Council (JELACC)?

JELAC is currently the only local body that convenes representatives of the three co-equal branches of government.  Conceptualized by Senate Majority Leader Kiko Pangilinan some 10 months ago, JELAC was proposed during a summit on extra-judicial killings and involuntary disappearances last year.On 13 May 2008, heads of the three co-equal branches — President Gloria Arroyo for the Executive Department, Senate President Manny Villar and House Speaker Prospero Nograles for the Legislature, and Chief Justice Reynato Puno for the Judiciary — have formally signed a Memorandum of Agreement to implement JELAC’s primary purpose to translate the conceptual “Rule of Law” into concrete measures. 

Structure and Composition of the Council

The Council shall be composed of nine (9) members, with the President of the Republic of the Philippines as the Chairperson and the following as members: the Vice-President, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; one (1) member of the Cabinet to be designated by the President; one (1) member of the Senate to be designated by the President of the Senate; one (1) member of the House of Representatives to be designated by the Speaker; and one (1) member of the Supreme Court to be designated by the Chief Justice. The President may likewise call on any members/s of the Cabinet or any other official as may be necessary from time to time.  

What is the mandate of the Council?

The Council shall serve as the forum and venue for the representatives of the three (3) branches of the government to undertake measures on matters affecting the primacy of the rule of law, to identify the problems and issues, to formulate solutions, and to implement the same. Concerning the Judiciary, the Council shall formulate solutions to the following matters:

  1. the budget of the Judiciary;
  2. its infrastructure requirements; 
  3. the creation of new positions and filling of vacancies; 
  4. its career development program; 
  5. the compensation and security of judicial officials; 
  6. the security of tenure of judicial personnel; and other related matters.   


What are the concerns that the JELAC would strive to address and resolve?

JELAC is not another layer in the bureaucracy.  In fact, as stated, it is probably the only body now that provides a common ground for the three branches of government.  The representatives of these estates believe and recognize that  the JUDICIARY NEEDS FISCAL SUPPORT AND LEGISLATION FOR REFORMS IN THE JUDICIARY, AND THAT IS PRIMARILY TO STRENGTHEN AND ENSURE THE SPEEDY AND EFFICIENT ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE.  IF SUPPORT IS IN PLACE, THE JUDICIARY WILL BE ABLE TO IMPLEMENT PROGRAMS TO FURTHER IMPROVE THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM IN THE COUNTRY. However, SEVERAL CONCERNS AFFECT THE JUDICIARY.  THE VACANCY IN JUDGESHIP positions in the Judiciary, as well as IN posts for public prosecutors and attorneys IS PERVASIVE.  In Jolo, for instance, (data).  There are some areas THAT LACK  Halls of Justice. Compensation in private practice is more competitive compared to the salaries of judges and public lawyers (data).  THE allocation for the Judiciary is a meager 0.08 percent of the entire NATIONAL budget. All of these factors result in a systemic friction wherein the speedy disposition of cases ultimately suffers.  Dockets are clogged with cases because there are no judges to resolve them, and there are not enough public lawyers to participate in the legal processes. 

How will JELAC help address these concerns?

The JELAC’s operational aspect, being composed of the co-equal branches of government, will facilitate a more expeditious response to the current state of our justice system, and in the broader scheme, the Rule of Law.  JELAC will essentially expedite the bureaucratic flow.Initially, the JELAC has already agreed in principle to work on a 20 percent increase in Judiciary budget by next year.  If achieved, said allocation represents one percent of the national budget for Judiciary, the highest appropriation in its history.  Senator Pangilinan, the MAIN  proponent of JELAC, envisions said body as a forum for the exploration of the necessary  support PRIMARILY GEARED TOWARDS FURTHER STRENGHTENING  THE JUDICIARY.  ADDITIONAL RESOURCES WOULD MEAN THAT THE JUDICIARY  WILL BE ABLE TO RAISE SALARIES OF JUDGES TO MAKE THEM MORE COMPETITIVE WITH THOSE ENGAGED IN PRIVATE PRACTICE,   COURTS WILL BE CREATED AND VACANCIES FILLED. SUCH IMPROVEMENTS IN THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE WILL BE AN EFFECTIVE AND  strategic response to strengthening the Rule of Law.  

Will the creation of JELAC undermine the independence of the Supreme Court?

Firstly the creation of the JELAC is not by law but by a memo of agreement. Hence, at any given time, any party to the agreement may send notice to other parties if it desires to withdraw its participation from the Council. The hands of the SC, therefore, are not tied to the JELAC should it deem necessary to disengage because of legal or policy differences.Secondly, the creation of the JELAC is by MoA and not by law precisely because the Council is meant to be ad hoc in nature. It is meant to fast track the much needed reforms in the administration of justice by way of budgetary and other forms of support. In the event that significant reforms have been put in place then the council can be dissolved.The sooner it is dissolved the better because this would mean that reforms have been realized and the council’s existence becomes unnecessary. The JELAC is meant to address ISSUES  that have plagued the judiciary and the administration of justice for decades. This requires new approaches, new methods and strategies.

The JELAC is an ‘outside the box’ solution to these perennial concerns that refuse to go away. We cannot expect the recurring problems to go away if we apply the same tired, old and ineffective methods. Now more than ever, we need bold, fresh, creative and innovative approaches to solve our nation’s ills and the JELAC is one such approach. Our nation’s problems don’t go away and remain unsolved precisely because we aren’t being bold and daring enough to seek new ways and new approaches to governance. By providing the much needed budgetary support for judicial reforms, JELAC will in fact strengthen the independence of the judiciary rather than undermine it.