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PH has slowest justice system in the world

/ 12:10 AM November 24, 2014

The Philippines, I am sure, is in the Guinness World Records as the country with the slowest judicial system. Of this, we should not be proud but be ashamed. We just marked the anniversaries of two mass killings in the Philippines, both of which made world records: the Maguindanao massacre where 58 poor souls, including 32 media workers, were murdered; and the Ozone Disco Club fire in Quezon City that claimed the lives of 162 persons, most of them young men and women celebrating their graduation.

In the Ozone Disco fire, the trial of those responsible for the tragedy took almost 19 years, much longer than the sentences imposed on them by the court. In the Maguindanao massacre, the court is still hearing the bail petitions of some of the accused, five years into the trial.

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Indeed, this is true not only of these two shocking mass murders but also of almost all cases filed in court. The cases against Imelda Marcos et al., for example, have been pending since 1986 when the Marcos dictatorship was toppled by angry citizens. That’s two-and-a-half decades ago. Not only is Imelda still out of prison, she continues to behave as if she is still the first lady. Instead of being in jail, she is in the House of Representatives as congresswoman for Ilocos Norte. Her son Bongbong is a senator salivating to be president, and daughter Imee is governor of Ilocos Norte.

And that is one reason that crime and corruption are thriving in the Philippines in spite of scores of charges filed against the malefactors. Ironically, the number of grafters and criminals has increased since People Power. Who would be afraid of the law when they know that even if they are caught, they can stay out of prison for decades during which time they can continue doing what they have been doing and prospering from them? Crime and corruption can never be eliminated, or even slowed down, unless there is quick justice.

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One reason given for the slow wheels of justice is the “clogged court dockets”—too many cases being tried by too few courts and judges. This gets worse every year, as new cases pile up as fewer and fewer cases get to be decided by the courts.

Two other reasons: the dilatory tactics by the defense and the lackadaisical attitude of the judges. A motion for postponement is almost always granted by the judges who feel no urgency to finish a case quickly. The legal principle that “justice delayed is justice denied” no longer has any meaning for judges and lawyers.

Ironically, the appellate courts themselves, including the Supreme Court, abet the delays. They are too quick to issue temporary restraining orders (TROs). The high court is the worst of all. While lower courts can issue TROs for limited periods only, the tribunal can issue, and often does, TROs for indefinite periods.

Also, the appellate courts are quick to accept petitions for certiorari questioning the decisions of lower courts, and then take forever deciding them on the merits.

The Maguindanao massacre trial has been delayed so much by this tactic of the defense.

The puzzle is why the trials of the Ozone Disco fire and the Maguindanao massacre are taking so long (although the defendants in the Ozone Disco fire have been declared guilty by the court, the cases are not yet finished as they can still file motions for reconsideration and appeals) when they are very simple cases. In both cases there are the hundreds of corpus delicti, the suspects have been clearly identified, and the cause or motive is evident. They are not some murky murder mystery cases where the prosecutors have to piece together circumstantial evidence. They are what can be described as open-and-shut cases. The guilt of the accused are very clear and evident. So why is it taking the courts decades to decide them? Because most of the judges are lazy.

Most judges conduct trials for only half-a-day. The trial of each case lasts for only one hour, after which it is scheduled again at least one month later. Postponements usually last longer, up to 60 days, after which there may be another motion for postponement based on some flimsy excuse. Many judges and government prosecutors absent themselves during scheduled trials, forcing still more postponements of all the cases scheduled for trial that day.

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So what can be done? One is to appoint more judges and justices. Another is for the Supreme Court to crack the whip on lower court judges, and set the example by quickly deciding appeals and petitions elevated to it. A third is to hold continuous trials until the cases are submitted for decision. (There used to be a contest among Metro Manila judges on who is “the fastest judge alive.” It may be a good idea to restore it.) And most important, to crack down on corruption in the judiciary and the prosecution arm of the government (and also in the ranks of private practitioners). A granddaughter once asked me: “Why do trials in the Philippines take many years, but on television they take only one hour?”

Try answering that.

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TAGS: Guinness World Records, justice, maguindanao massacre, nation, news, Ozone Disco Club fire
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