theTRUSTGURU.com

        
 

HOME

Lectures &
Presentations

News & Views

Law &

Jurisprudence

Administrative
Issuances


Trust Products
& Practice

About the Guru

Links

Email Feedback

Guest Register

Archives 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Viva Vidal

(Article published in the Jan 25,2012 issue of Manila Standard Today) 

Supreme Court Clerk of Court, lawyer Enriqueta Esguerra Vidal, deserves everyone’s congratulations and the country’s gratitude.  She demonstrated last January 18th during her testimony before the impeachment court trying the case against Chief Justice Renato C. Corona that she was, in the manner of St. Thomas More, the court’s good servant, but the law’s first.

The 2002 Revised Manual for Clerks of Court spells out in detail what her job as clerk of court, in general, demanded of her.  “The nature of the work and of the office, “ says the Manual, “mandates that the Clerk of Court be an individual of competence, honesty and integrity.  In relation to the Judge [in her case, to the Chief Justice and each one of the Associate Justices of the high court] said officer occupies a position of confidence which should not be betrayed.  With the prestige of the office, goes the corresponding responsibility to safeguard the integrity of the Court and its proceedings, to earn respect therefor, to maintain loyalty thereto and to the Judge [again, in her case, to each of the members of the Supreme Court] as the superior officer, to maintain the authenticity and correctness of Court records, and to uphold the confidence of the public in the administration of justice.” 

Not without reason, therefore, did former Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr., writing the Foreword to the Manual, declare that “our clerks of court are at the forefront of judicial administration because of their indispensable role in case adjudication and court management.” After all, as the Manual recognizes, “As regards the Court’s funds and revenues, records, properties and premises, said officer is the custodian. Thus, the Clerk of Court is generally also the treasurer, accountant, guard and physical plant manager thereof.”
 










     

Among the records specifically placed by law under her care were the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) of the justices. Section 8 of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (R.A. No. 6713), requires all justices to file their SALNs with the Clerk of Court of the Supreme Court.  How the public, in the exercise of its right to know, may gain access to those SALNs in the Clerk of Court’s custody is laid out in a resolution passed by the Supreme Court on 02 May 1989 when the tribunal considered the request of Jose M. Alejandrino for the SALN of then Chief Justice Marcelo B. Fernan and of then Associate Justices Andres R. Narvasa, Emilia A. Gancayco, Abdulwahid A. Bidin, Isagani A. Cruz, Abraham Sarmiento, Irene R. Cortes, Carolina C. Griῇo-Aquino, Leo Medialdea and Florez D. Regalado.

In that Alejandro resolution, the basic stance of the Supreme Court, contrary to what its critics are presently saying, was in favour of disclosure.  “Be that as it may,” said the Court after noting facts that hinted, if not outright indicated, a not so noble intent behind Alejandrino’s request, “the Court was unanimous in expressing its willingness to have the Clerk of Court furnish copies of the statements of assets and liabilities of the Chief Justice and any Associate Justice to any person upon request, provided there is a legitimate reason for the request...”  “Legitimate reason” is the crux of task.  

Examples of what are not legitimate reasons were given in the Alejandrino resolution. Noting that Section 8(D) of R.A. No. 6713, makes it unlawful to obtain or use the disclosed SALN, for “(a) any purpose contrary to morals or public policy; or (b) any commercial purpose other than by news and communications media for dissemination to the general public,” Alejandrino cites, as an instance of illegitimate purpose, “to fish for information and, with the implicit threat of its disclosure, to influence a decision or to warn the court of the unpleasant consequences of an adverse judgement.” “In the few areas where there is extortion by rebel elements or where the nature of their work exposes Judges to assaults against their personal safety, the request,” requires Alejandrino, “shall not only be denied but should be immediately reported to the military.”

The problem with Alejandrino, however, is it did not specify who it was that ought to determine the legitimacy of the purpose.  On the one hand, it could be argued that such duty was the clerk of court’s because it is he or she to whom the request is addressed.  But, on the other, it is equally arguable that it is the court’s prerogative to determine legitimacy of purpose, since it is the court’s independence that was being protected by the regulation. 

The horns of the dilemma became real when Vidal was summoned by the Impeachment Court and ordered to bring with her the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth of the impeached Chief Justice Renato C. Corona.  With Alejandrino lacking in guidance, Vidal did what a good bureaucrat does:  seek authorization from her immediate superior, which itself was issuer of Alejandrino.  That move was very prudent, flawless and impeccable.

Unfortunately, however, the requested response from her superior was not to be forthcoming until after the time fixed in the subpoena duces tecum, for her to comply.  She was to go to the Impeachment Court on a Wednesday; the Supreme Court en banc, her superior, was to meet only the following Tuesday. There was a need to make a personal decision. Vidal had to take the bull by its horns; she took it upon herself to break the dilemma.

Vidal knew that above her immediate boss was a higher superior.  Within the halls of the Royal and Pontifical University where she took up both her pre-law, (finishing magna cum laude) and her law proper (during which she was editor of the UST Law Review and President of the Astera Law Sorority), she learned only too well that that the constitution had ordained a process by which members of her own superior may be called to make an account of themselves.  The summons by the Impeachment Court was undeniably a legitimate part and parcel of that process.   Therefore, it was obvious to Vidal she had to comply.

The rest is history.  Never mind that she had begged, if only for just one day, to get authorization from his immediate boss.  Never mind that she had needed to be assured by some senator judges that she was being asked to do the right thing.  What matters most is that, in the end, she showed she had the stuff to live up to the high standard of nobility that was required of one in her position:  she was a true clerk, in its finest meaning of clericus, i.e. one, among a select few, who moves to the strains of the angelic harp, not to the strained pleas of any earth-bound seraphim.  

         When Vidal, the lawyer, finally handed over the SALNs as demanded by the Impeachment Court, she boldly affirmed that for her, as it should be for other clerks of court, loyalty to the court ends where loyalty to the law begins.  May her tribe increase.

     

| TOP  HOME  |  MANILA STANDARD TODAY ARTICLES LIST