Justice pending
ROSES & THORNS - Alejandro R. Roces () - June 15, 2010 - 12:00am

Justice delayed, they say, is justice denied. If that is the case, then our justice system is in dire need of reform. It is not uncommon for the resolution of a case to be pending for years on end.

Since the end of Martial Law we have often cited the unsolved murder case of Senator Ninoy Aquino as a symptom of our flawed judicial system. The function of justice is to give every person his due. If someone such as Ninoy cannot get justice, what hope is there for anyone else? President Ramon Magsaysay’s credo was “Those who have less in life should have more in law.”

A few months ago Marites Danguilan Vitug published her book on the recent history of the Supreme Court. It is called “Shadow of Doubt — Probing the Supreme Court.” In the process of telling the story of the Supreme Court she also delves into the flaws and issues of the judicial system. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. It should be above reproach. Back in 1997 of the Supreme Court we wrote: “Of course, what is happening in the Supreme Court is what has happened to the other two departments in the government — the Executive and the Legislative, after martial law, meaning, after the EDSA revolution when the quality of both elected and appointed officials declined.” It is imperative to restore some measure of confidence in our court system. The way to do that is to restore its effectiveness. Without it the culture of corruption, exploitation and impunity that exists will continue to do so.

We remember in 1997 that a commission was established to study proposals made to fix the high tribune, and subsequently give recommendations. We wonder how many of the recommendations have been implemented? The problems the judiciary faces are legion. But without a sense of justice, social development in the Philippines will forever be stunted.

One of the more interesting parts of Vitug’s book was the list of cases in the court system. The numbers read: “As of August 2009, there were 642,213 cases pending in the courts (except the Supreme Court), with almost (356,998) lodged in the regional trial courts…The backlogs were tremendous: 695,286 cases (excluding the Supreme Court) as of 2007…As of December 2007, pending cases before the Supreme Court numbered 6,693; this fell slightly to 6,455 in December 2008.” Ms. Vitug continues and points out that this means that each judge has approximately 30,000 cases. If accurate, this is a staggering number of cases. Justice is thwarted from under a pile of paper. The judiciary only receives .81% of the total budget (as of 2008 according to statistics in the book). Overworked, underfunded and understaffed. Even worse, at times, the judges are not adequately protected from harm in the course of duty.

Then there is the issue of corruption in the judiciary. As the Human Development Report of the Philippines (2008/2009 says: “…a corrupt judiciary would necessarily mean that the legal and institutional mechanism designed to curb corruption in other branches would be seriously compromised. It follows that the judiciary should come under even more intense scrutiny than the other two.” More than anything, the justice system exists to provide equal protection under the law to all Filipinos. If it fails in this duty, the country suffers. It is the ultimate check and balance for impunity and opacity in government and civil society alike.

Law is law only if it is based on reason, and only if it is applied equitably no matter the personage. As it stands today, the judicial branch of the government has become as much a political playpen as any other branch of the government. Any agenda to reform the government must begin in the judiciary. And reform must start at the top with the Supreme Court.

AS OF AUGUST AS OF DECEMBER AS THE HUMAN DEVELOPMENT REPORT OF THE PHILIPPINES COURT EXECUTIVE AND THE LEGISLATIVE JUSTICE MARITES DANGUILAN VITUG MARTIAL LAW MS. VITUG SUPREME SUPREME COURT
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