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Needed: Swift and even application of rules

(Article published in the November 6, 2001 issue of TODAY, Business Section)

One of the benefits of traveling to other countries is the opportunity to read newspapers not ordinarily available at home. I indulged myself in this gentle pleasure Monday last week, while waiting for a client to join me for breakfast at the Executive Lounge in the 18th Floor of Sheraton Towers, and the paper I browsed through was a thick daily called "Hong Kong iMail." Its sports section carried an item from London about a football match that occurred over the previous weekend. How I wished we were as serious with our laws as those guys were about the rules of their game.

It was reported that in a football match, a Robbie Keane, playing for Leeds United, raised his hands in the face of an opposing player, David Bechman, of Manchester United, and pushed him to the ground after David Bechman had fouled Keane. Referee Deermot Gallagher book both players but did not send Keane out of the game.

What struck me was the quick and decisive action of the English Football League. According to their rules, Keane’s action was a red-card offense and Gallagher did not adhere to it. As a consequence, Gallagher was to be officially "relegated," meaning, he will be banned from officiating in English Premier matches. In a typical English statement, Adrian Bevington, spokesman of the football association, said, "We are disappointed that Dermot Gallagher chose to make the decision he made. He will be meeting with his professional manager andhe faces a period away from referring certain games."

Quickly I was transported mentally to our country where time and again we hear of judges and justices handling out uneven justice. Even former President Erap had enough perspicacity to assess the state of the judiciary and he ranted against "hoodlooms in robes." Yet seldom do we hear, except in sensational cases, judges and justices being taken to task for not following the rules.

Worse, we no longer see judges feeling embarrassed for being reversed by a superior court. Gone are days when judges of the lower courts are visibly distraught whenever their decisions or their acts are overturned on appeal or on certiorari. Somehow, it seems complacency had seeped into their ranks, undoubtedly because of a great extent to the dilution of the system of promotion based on merit that once ruled their careers.

There is, however, no serious reason, why our judiciary cannot cleanse its own ranks the way the English football association did. The Constitution clearly empowers the Supreme court to discipline judges of lower courts (Section 11, Art. VIII, Const.). In the hands of the Supreme Court is a wide array of disciplinary tools, from the drastic dismissal, which could be handed out by a majority vote of the members deliberating on the case, to measure similar to the name-and-shame techniques used by international organizations. All that is required is more meaningful crackdown on judges not doing their duty and letting the public realize that the highest court is cracking the whip.

Planners of every kind, be they estate planners or corporate planners, often say that what we need to stimulate the economy and sustain its growth is a level playing field. Just as important though, is the quick and enforcement of rules, as well as, if not more critical, improving the standards, consistency and efficiency of those who apply them.