Wisdom from a legal giant

Last Saturday, I wrote about and extensively quoted from Associate Justice Antonio Carpio’s commencement speech to the 2 PHD in Leadership and 32 Masters in Public Management graduates of the Ateneo School of Government. The speech is entitled “My Journey in Public Service” and it is full of lessons for public servants and for those who work on governance issues in the country. I proudly claim several affiliations with Justice Carpio—a shared name, similar place of origin Mindanao, the same undergraduate dorm (Cervini Hall) and college (Ateneo de Manila University), and a common legal education (the University of the Philippines College of Law).
In the Saturday column, I wrote about the governance lessons Justice Carpio identified from addressing monopolies in telecommunications and the shipping industry as well as in attempting to eradicate jueteng in the county. In today’s column, I will share Carpio’s insights from dealing with formidable legal issues.
One issue that the Ramos administration (and others before it) had to contend with was the long delay in resolving administrative cases. In the Malacanang legal office alone, according to Carpio, the backlog stretched to almost 20 years when he assumed office. Likewise, this kind of backlogs existed in different government offices. I can affirm that as I run the legal office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources from 1996 to 98 and our backlog stretched to 50 years and I had more than 5,000 pending cases when I joined the department.
Justice Carpio recalls how he addressed this problem: “I proposed to the President an Administrative Order introducing two measures. First, all parties should submit affidavits in lieu of direct testimony of their witnesses. This would cut down the time for taking testimonies of witnesses by at least 50 percent. Second, all parties should submit draft decisions of their cases, and the head of office would choose which one to adopt either wholly or partially. This would allow the head of office to promptly dispose of cases submitted for decision.”
According to Carpio, he explained to the President that this was the procedure adopted in the United States and other countries to efficiently and fairly dispose of administrative cases. President Ramos was convinced and signed the Administrative Order. The result: “This allowed the Malacañang legal office, headed by then Assistant Secretary Renato Corona whom I recruited to join the Ramos Administration, to wipe out the almost 20 years of backlog of cases in the Malacanang legal office.” Other departments emulated this approach successfully. That included the DENR legal office, under my watch. With the support of then-Environment Secretary Victor Ramos, we wiped out the backlog six months before President Ramos’ term ended.
Justice Carpio emphasized the lesson here: We do not have to reinvent the wheel. The problems of our government bureaucracy are likely not unique to the Philippines. Governments of other countries have faced them and have instituted solutions, some successfully and others unsuccessfully. We can learn lessons from these successful and unsuccessful solutions and craft our own solutions.”