PHILIPPINES: Court delay requires not a temporary relief

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) cautiously welcomes the effort by the judiciary to re-start their program called “justice-on-wheels”. The program, which started conducting hearings on July 9, aims to reduce the number of court cases in order to ease the congestion in crowded jails, by conducting hearings in jails. Buses have been converted into mobile courts room where judges hear cases. On that day, about 20 cases were reported to have been resolved which resulted in the release of some detainees at the Manila City jail; one of whom was charged with robbery and whose hearing was concluded in 15 minutes.

While the program, which began four years ago, deserves appreciation as it publicly acknowledges that court delays not only adds to the congestion in detention centers, it also acknowledges the deprivation of detainees’ rights to speedy disposition of their cases. This endemic problem of court delays likewise has long deprived an unthinkable number of detainees of their freedom, who have since forced to endure prolonged detention, even before being convicted.

The “justice-on-wheels” program has, in fact, brought to light the sad realities in the administration of justice there. While the Philippine judiciary makes every effort to become efficient—which is eventually helpful to detainees—the actions they have taken underlines the incapability of the judges and the regular courts to perform speedy hearing of cases. Had these regular courts been functioning effectively, there would have no need at all for mobile courts. This is because that, while most of the judiciary intend to carry out their duties effectively, they are confronted with practical problems; for instance, the lack of competent judges and legal aid lawyers, overloading of cases, lack of resources, amongst others.

While some of the detainees have been released through the efforts of this program, there are undeniably thousands of others who unwarranted incarceration as they are unable to have their cases heard and concluded in the same manner. The program, which since 2004 still only has four mobile courtrooms throughout the country, is barely scratching the surface of what needs to be done. The plight of Abadilla Five, whose cases remain pending after having spent 12 years in jail, demonstrates that to effectively address the endemic problem of court delays requires a reasonable long term solution.

And even if “justice-on-wheels” may have been able resolve cases and decongest the detention centers promptly, it can never neither an alternative or replacement to what should been an effective, competent and an independent judiciary. Therefore, increasing the capabilities and efficiency should likewise be address to solving the practical problem in the administration of justice, as already mentioned earlier. In doing so, not only is it the duty of the judiciary, but that of the Government of the Philippines, who has the utmost obligation to ensure an effective administration of justice.

It is not only cases of detainees that require prompt action, but those cases that remain pending and those would be filed in court. For instance, in prosecuting cases of worst forms of human rights abuses—enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and torture—particularly those cases filed against the security forces requires speedy disposition. In these cases, not only is the liberty of the person is at stake, but the lives of those pursuing legal remedies, like witnesses and families of victims, that continue to face threats until the case is concluded and perpetrators are punished.

In the Philippines, the upsurge in crimes, particularly those carried out by security forces has been embolden by the inability and the incapability of the justice institution to function effectively. The people, who have already lost faith in courts, are themselves unwilling or discouraged from seeking legal remedies, especially as some of the security forces and other persons are already taking laws into their hands, thereby rendering the courts useless—for instance, extrajudicial executions of crime suspects. The delay in the prosecution of cases has, in fact, prevented victims or complainants of crimes to file case in court.

It is indeed disturbing that the failure of the state’s justice institutions to function has been allowed to continue. Also, curing a deeply wounded system of justice requires not topical treatment; but the finding of solutions to improve the system that caused the delays and people’s loss of faith in the first place.


Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-190-2008
Countries : Philippines,
Campaigns : Abadilla 5