SC: Protecting rights of oppressed (Second of a series)

Published by rudy Date posted on May 13, 2011

MANILA, Philippines — Consistent with his promise for the Court to protect the rights of every man, woman, and child, the Corona Court directed the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to conduct appropriate investigative proceedings to identify the perpetrators and determine the other circumstances surrounding the 2007 abduction and disappearance of Jonas Burgos, son of the late press freedom icon Jose “Joe” Burgos Jr. and a farmer advocate.

In the case of Filipino-American activist Melissa Roxas, the Court also directed the CHR to take over the investigation into her claim that she was abducted and tortured by alleged military men.

The Corona Court issued the order after finding the investigation conducted by the police and the military insufficient.

In the Negros Occidental vs The Commissioners, Commission on Audit, the Court held that the grant and release of the hospitalization and health care insurance benefits given to petitioner’s 1,949 officials and employees were validly enacted through an ordinance passed by petitioner’s Sangguniang Panlalawigan.

On the other hand, pending the final resolution in Francisco vs Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) on the issue of the legality and constitutionality of the supplemental toll operation agreements (STOAs) covering North Luzon Expressway (NLEx), South Luzon Expressway (SLEx), and the South Metro Manila Skyway, the Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the implementation of the toll rate hikes in the SLEx in August, 2010.

While the TRO was subsequently lifted and the power of the TRB to fix tolls upheld, the Court did not only give a respite, albeit temporary, from higher toll rates to the commuting public, but also struck down certain provisions of the STOAs which were prejudicial to public interest.

Likewise, upon instruction of Corona, the Office of the Court Administrator, released a circular directing trial courts to speed up the resolution of cases involving violations of Republic Act No. 9208, the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003.

The release of the circular, according to Corona, represents a concrete step recently taken by the Court in fulfillment of the judiciary’s mandate on the speedy disposition of cases before all judicial, quasi-judicial and administrative bodies.

Human trafficking cases are now mandated to be heard continuously with hearing dates being spaced not more than two weeks apart.

Under the circular, pending human trafficking cases should also now be given priority and decided with dispatch, and newly-raffled cases should be heard and decided within 180 days from arraignment of the accused.

Judicial reforms despite tight budget

Despite not getting the desired budget for the judiciary, several reforms have been initiated since Corona’s assumption as top magistrate.

The judiciary had asked for a P27.1-billion budget for 2011 but the Palace only allotted P14.3 billion.

“This (budget) is a perennial problem. But justice still advances in this country and at a relatively faster pace already. It all depends on management,” Corona had said in an earlier interview.

Thus, the Corona Court proceeded to crafting judicial reform initiatives and measures covering priority areas such as transformation of judicial mindsets; docket and jail decongestion and expeditious case resolution; modernization of the courts; institu¬tion of integrity reform measures; and strengthening of judicial performance of all judges and court employees and inculcation of social consciousness, and responsibility among court officials and employees.

In line with this, the Corona Court has fast-tracked the implementation of its Small Claims Courts Project (SCCP), the pilot test for which was conducted in 44 trial courts in select urban areas in the country in 2009.

In small claims cases, the judge acts as a pro-active mediator between the parties, moving away from his traditional role of being a neutral umpire between party-litigants.

Small claims courts hear and resolve small money disputes and claims not exceeding P100,000 within the day, compared to the average four months of the normal litigation process.

As of February, 2011, a total of 691 out of 2,107 small claims cases filed has been successfully disposed, resulting in a disposition rate of 33 percent.

The Corona Court has also committed to further promote mediation and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in the Philippines to further decongest court dockets and jails.

As of April 27, 2011, a total of 24,426 out of 39,691 cases has been subjected to Court-Annexed Mediation (CAM), showing a success rate of 61.54 percent.

Meanwhile, a total of 2,069 out of 5,525 cases has been successfully subjected to Judicial Dispute Resolution (JDR), showing a success rate of 37.45 percent; while 149 out of 410 cases have been successfully subjected to Appeals Court Mediation (ACM).

Aside from its small claims and mediation efforts, one of the main priorities of the Corona Court is the expansion of the Enhanced Justice on Wheels (EJoW) Program.

The Corona Court has intensified the implementation of the EJoW project as it now has eight roving buses all over the country, with a courtroom and a mediation room provided for each bus.

From May 17, 2010 to March 29, 2011, a total of 1,790 inmates have been released or had their cases terminated; 1, 574 have been given medi¬cal and dental attention; 1,262 cases have been successfully mediated.

On the other hand, 515 inmates have been made beneficiaries of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Legal Aid Program; 130 dia¬logues have been held among judges, clerk of courts, and IBP members, and 1,379 information dissemination programs have been conducted for barangay officials.

The Court, together with the Las Piñas City judges, has also launched Judgment Day which aims the simultaneous disposition of cases in one day, and is an offshoot of the EJOW Program.

The program resulted in the provisional release of five inmates, acquittal of 46 accused, and conviction of eight others in criminal cases.

Thirty-one civil cases were heard, and a total of 70 inmates consulted with the 20-member medical and dental team from the Las Piñas City Health Office.

Corona noted that EJoW statistics show that in spite of the perennial problems of congested court dockets and vacancies, the judiciary has still achieved significant victories in the battle to provide people with access to justice.

The Corona Court also pilot-tested its Case Decongestion and Case Delay Reduction Project (CDCDRP) from June to August, 2010, in the Lapu-Lapu City Courts.

The CDCDRP entails identification of problems contributing to the inefficiency of a particular court and the development of a case management plan to held directly address such concern.

Preliminary results showed an increased disposition rate of 5.51 per cent after audit.

The Court also created the Chief Justice Committee to Address Case Congestions and Delays in the lower courts to provide policy guidance for case decongestion efforts.

The high-level committee is composed of Associate Justices and other SC officials and agencies in the Criminal Justice System to oversee case decongestion efforts that will significantly cut down the number of pending cases clogging the system.

Among the duties and objectives of the Committee are: making an inventory and profile of case congestions and delays in the lower courts and investigating the causes thereof; establishing a system for quick detection of case congestion and delay build-ups and a system for prompt response to such cases; directing and overseeing the optimum use of available human and material resources to solve case congestion and delay; and re-examining existing judicial and administrative strategies, systems, procedures and developing new ones designed to address the problem. –REY G. PANALIGAN, Manila Bulletin

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