MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine judiciary faces serious difficulties in addressing case backlogs as lower courts are congested with over a million cases every year, the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) revealed on Friday.
NSCB Secretary General Jose Ramon Albert said that from 2005 to 2010, lower courts were continuously confronted with heavy volume of caseload, with an annual average of 1,059,484 cases or equivalent to an average of around 4,221 cases per working day.
He said this backlog of cases in lower courts has been increasing over the years since the Regional, Municipal, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts (MTC) posted low annual disposition rates from 2005 to 2010.
Albert revealed that while the total inflow of cases in the lower courts has been declining from 457,146 in 2005 to 385,067 in 2012, the total outflow of cases has likewise been on a downtrend, from 487,605 cases in 2005 to 382,957 in 2012.
"Hmmmm. I wonder if this suggests that lawyers are prolonging the trial process, or that judges are taking too long to make judgments, or that judges just have too many cases to resolve, or all of the above," Albert said in the latest issue of Beyond the Numbers.
The over a million cases swamped in the lower courts a year also mean that each judge need to handle an annual caseload of 644 cases or about three cases to be resolved each working day.
The NSCB also lamented that the number of judges has also been decreasing from 1,710 in 2007 to 1,647 in 2009.
In addition, the agency's figures showed an annual vacancy rate for judges in lower courts at 24.3 percent during the period 2006 to 2009.
Shari'a circuit courts had the highest average annual vacancy rate at 38.7 percent while MTCs had the lowest at 17 percent.
Albert said part of the inefficiencies suggested by trends in the statistics may be issues of budget and its use.
"Statistics show that the judiciary faces serious difficulties in addressing case backlogs, and that additional investments will be required to improve the adjudication process!" Albert said.
Community courts ease congestion
Alternative community courts, known as the barangay justice system, are meant to help decongest the cases handled by regular courts, according to Albert.
But while these courts work mostly as alternative, community-based mechanism for resolution of conflicts and compulsory mediation process at the village level, these cannot replace the function of formal courts in adjudicating grave offenses like homicide and murder.
In 2011, for instance, these courts settled 355,345 of the 461,834 disputes (76 percent) referred to them.
Nearly 76 percent of the cases were settled through mediation, while 20 percent through conciliation and 4 percent through arbitration," Albert said.