“[The judiciary] should be considered as a key element in the promotion of inclusive, sustainable and equitable economic growth, especially for those who are poor and marginalized in developing countries,” Philippines Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said during a recent event that I participated in at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on the interconnections between a strong judiciary and predictable economic investment and growth. Chief Justice Sereno—the first woman to serve as Chief Justice of the Philippines Supreme Court—is a key voice calling for the development of a strong and stable judiciary in the Philippines that creates a platform for continued investment and confidence in the country’s economy.
Chief Justice Sereno’s story is powerful – and one I wish we could tell more often. Appointed to the highest seat in the Philippine judiciary following the impeachment of her predecessor, she symbolized a meaningful call for change and a new face in the judiciary, with a fresh perspective. She also has a long track record on the issue of judicial reform: in 2007, she co-authored a survey-based paper that found that 84 percent of corporations surveyed stated that judicial inefficiency would cause firms to decide not to invest in the country.
Chief Justice Sereno spoke with conviction and determination about how an economy can only prosper if judicial reform is responsive, adequate, and sufficient in minimizing transaction risks and providing reasonable protection of business interests. The role of the courts is to honor bargains, settle controversies and interpret the rules of the market which allow for investors to place their trust in economic dealings.
This perspective aligns well with our own development efforts in the Philippines; judicial reform was raised as an issue in the constraints analysis conducted under the U.S.-Philippines Partnership for Growth (PFG), a pathbreaking partnership that began over a year ago. The PFG constraints analysis amplifies the Chief Justice’s analysis that the quality of court services is a key determinant of inclusive and sustainable growth.
In concert with the PFG, our Judicial Strengthening to Increase Court Effectiveness (JUSTICE) Project will assist in accomplishing many of the goals Chief Justice Sereno has set in her judicial reform agenda. JUSTICE, which just recently began in October 2012 and is being implemented by the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, will improve court efficiency, primarily through docket decongestion and reduction of trial delays; strengthen contract and intellectual property enforcement to help ensure the predictability of market rules; and build confidence in the integrity of courts. The JUSTICE Project will work to improve intellectual property rights and contract enforcement by building capacity of courts to resolve priority commercial cases. USAID will also support organizations outside the government to address rule of law issues. More important, USAID will continue to engage leaders like Chief Justice Sereno to search for innovative ways of improving justice delivery.
Chief Justice Sereno remarked that, “There is a kind of renaissance going on in the Philippines, with a focus on judicial reform.” Seeing a vital issue like judicial reform in the Philippines get prioritized at the highest levels of government is exciting, and bodes well for the country’s economic development. We hope that Chief Justice Sereno’s efforts are successful and that USAID can contribute to this success through our own activities in the Philippines.
For more information on USAID’s work to support judicial reform in the Philippines, please visit our website.