Snails move faster
Imelda Marcos roamed freely for years before a judgment was finally brought down — but she didn’t go to jail. She issued a measly P150,000 check as a bail bond. She has appealed this 27-year-old decision, so it will now drag on for who knows how many more years. She wants her appeal to be heard at the Supreme Court, which should decline and pass it to where it belongs: the Court of Appeals.
But why is she allowed to be free while appealing? I see this as a serious fault in the Philippine legal system. If a judge finds you guilty and subject to imprisonment, the law has spoken, you go to jail. From there you appeal, otherwise it will make a mockery of the judge and his decision. Imelda’s is only the latest of famous cases that meander for aeons.
I put much of the slow crawl of justice down to unscrupulous lawyers using all kinds of “technicalities” to delay, even upset, justice — and judges allowing it. One must abide by the detail of the law, but that should not exclude making a commonsense judgment on an issue. Isn’t that what a judge is, someone who makes a judgment? If the judicial system somehow insists that judges have no choice but to accept technicalities, then do so, but give an extremely limited time — days — to resolve them. Don’t let it drag on for months and years.
Continuous trial, which was introduced in September 2017, has done away with some of the technicalities, so cases are moving faster and a number of courts have been able to declog their dockets. But there’s yet an awfully long way to go.
On top of that, the courts apparently accept virtually every case brought before them. Why? They should refuse frivolous cases. Even the Supreme Court accepts cases it never should. Some 8,700 cases are pending in that court as of end-2017. Such refusal should begin with Imelda’s case, and the Court of Appeals is where appeals should end.
I have a fundamental problem with Philippine law. Like in the United States, Philippine lawyers see their role as winning a case, regardless of whether the accused is innocent or guilty. I’ll never forget one famous lawyer who said that even if he saw someone commit a crime, he’d defend him to get him exonerated. But a lawyer’s role should be to seek the truth, not win the case.
I realize and accept that there are a number of constraints, with sufficient funds being a principal one. Congress needs to address that better than it does now. But it goes beyond this; there aren’t enough judges or courts. So the ones we have are overloaded, particularly since too many cases are nuisance ones.
There are more people in jails than these were designed for, living in inhuman conditions (rats in a cage live better) where only about P60 is allotted daily for three meals. You can’t buy a cup of Starbucks coffee for that. One way to decongest the jails is to apply modern technology. Put those anklets that restrict movement on those who do not pose further risk to society, those with minor offenses or those who are not a flight risk. Maybe then, the jails will become habitable, and a modicum of edible food could be provided to the prisoners. Maybe.
Overwhelmingly, those who are in jail are from the poor. Are the rich and powerful all honest? That’s nice to know.
I did a small survey of businessmen, and only 11 percent thought the Supreme Court was doing a good job; no one thought the lower courts were. Overwhelmingly, the perception was average to not very good.
It’s an ever so old adage, but true: “Justice delayed is justice denied.” The Philippine court system has been denying the Filipino people of the justice they have a right to expect. I suspect it’s a reason why summary justice is tolerated.
The Chief Justice has nine months to effect the major reforms the people have been crying out for decades. How does he put in place such reforms in such limited time? How does he ensure that his successor continues with those reforms? I think this has to be a key point — that there has to be continuity of reform. Talking to him, I sense that the Chief Justice is aware of this, and he seems truly determined to leave a positive legacy of reform and progress. So maybe, just maybe, the snail will shed its shell and start to crawl somewhat faster.
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