Civil case vs ‘diplomat-rapist’

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After the dismissal of the rape case against a Panamanian holding a diplomatic passport, a senator urged the victim to just file a civil case for damages. As there is no immunity in civil cases, that may seem like the next best thing. The diplomatic issue is a ticklish one which may not be resolved in the foreseeable future.

But there’s a problem. If a civil case for moral and exemplary damages must be filed, where is the victim going to get the money for filing/docket fees that could run in the tens of thousands of pesos? For instance, a claim for damages in the total amount of P10 million requires payment of filing/docket fees amounting to no less than P200,000 (computed currently at P20,000 per P1 million). Will the senator allow his “pork barrel” to be tapped into, given the humble beginnings of the victim? Be that as it may, there it is at once for everyone to see: the victim, after suffering indescribable injury, has to bear the added burden of paying for the cost of seeking judicial redress of her grievance!

Litigate as a pauper? The new amendments to the law exempting “paupers” from judicial fees have made it almost impossible for anyone to avail of its benefits.  Where before it was enough to show that the litigant is indigent, it is now required that all the members of his immediate family be also similarly situated. Thus, if he happens to have siblings who are employed or earn at least P25,000 a month, or own real property worth at least P300,000, he is disqualified outright. It is a patently bad law. Perhaps, the senator will find time to ruminate on it as a legislator and have that law revisited and amended.

Come to think of it, the sheer steepness of the current judicial fees has become a sort of encouragement for malefactors to steal big as an insurance against being sued! That is exactly the dilemma being faced by victims of large-scale estafa in this country who, after entrusting their hard-earned money to scammers, suddenly find themselves unable to pay the high cost of filing cases to recover what they lost. And that could result in something much worse: helpless and desperate, they could take the law into their own hands! Something has got to be done to correct that manifest injustice.

On a happier note, it is a good thing Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has finally seen fit to scrap her own department circular requiring payment of filing fees in the prosecution of criminal cases. Those exactions were, to say the least, preposterous. We are probably the only country in the world that puts a price tag on its citizens’ exercise of their right to demand punishment for crimes. We have been writing about that circular as “legalized extortion” (Inquirer, 5/30/07), enforced during the time of Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez. The remediation has taken quite a long time coming, but it is a welcome relief nevertheless.

—STEPHEN L. MONSANTO,

Monsanto Law Office,

Loyola Heights, Quezon City,

lexsquare.firm@gmail.com

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