EDITORIAL - Improving the judicial system

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - Improving the judicial system

A law has been signed creating 150 positions for judges-at-large. The judges – 100 for regional trial courts and 50 for municipal trial courts that handle misdemeanors and other light offenses – will have no permanent salas or courtrooms. At the same time, a House committee has approved a consolidation of nine bills that seek to create nine new RTCs across the country.

The moves aim to address the chronic case backlogs in courts, with judges saying the sheer number of cases they handle is simply overwhelming.

As important as creating new positions is picking the right persons to fill them. The appointment system in the judiciary, unfortunately, is heavily politicized, with competence and integrity among the least of the requirements. The result is manifested in the quality of Philippine justice, which is notoriously slow, inefficient and prone to corruption. Philippine adjudication can compete for a world record in slowness, with cases taking from 10 to 20 years for final judgment to be rendered. The delay often leads to injustice and discontent that can drive people to embrace insurgencies or short cuts to obtaining justice.

The lack of a meritocracy in Philippine society is evident in the judiciary, where magistrates are appointed or promoted based on connections. Politicians, religious groups and other special interests wield influence over the appointment and promotion system in the judiciary, compromising the independence and integrity of the appointees.

Republic Act 11459, which created the 150 new positions for judges, is a good step in easing court caseloads. The judges may be appointed by the Supreme Court as acting or assisting judges in courtrooms. After signing RA 11459, however, President Duterte will have to speed up the appointment of new judges. As of Aug. 27 this year, there were still nearly 750 unfilled positions for regular lower court judges nationwide. The SC and Malacañang must work closer together in the effort to improve the administration of justice.

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