New SC trial guidelines draw mixed comments
Eileen Nazareno-Ballesteros (The Freeman) - May 15, 2017 - 4:00pm

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines — Few weeks after the new guidelines on continuous trial was publicized, judges and employees in trial courts have expressed mixed reactions on its practicability in many trial courts in the country.

Although generally welcomed by the men and women in the judiciary as well as by private law practitioners, the new guidelines pose a great challenge to trial courts with no regular or permanent appointed judges, as well as those courts that are undermanned.

On April 25, the Supreme Court issued the New Guidelines on Continuous Trial of Criminal Cases embodied in A.M. NO. 15-06-10-SC. These are to be strictly followed in all trial courts nationwide beginning September 1 this year.

The new guidelines envision to protect and advance the constitutional right of persons to a speedy disposition of their criminal cases; to reinforce and give teeth to the existing rules on criminal procedure and other special rules prescribing periods for court action and those which promoted speedy disposition of criminal cases; and to introduce innovations and best practices for the benefit of the parties.

But Sta. Rita (Samar) Municipal Trial Court Judge Lourdes Hilvano, in an interview by DYVL-MBC’s Jimmy Angay-Angay, commented that the program is “unrealistic.”

“This is because the prosecutors and PAO (Public Attorney’s Office) lawyers are available in many salas only once a week because they are assigned in other salas in other days of the week,” she explained.

In her case, for example, the public prosecutor visits her sala only twice a month.

She said her court is dependent on the presence of government lawyers for cases to move.

“Continuous trial will help decongest court dockets if there is one lawyer and a prosecutor who will be assigned in the court everyday,” Hilvano suggested.

DYVL’s Rannie Arcenas gathered a similar view from Regional Trial Court Judge Lauro Andres Castillo Jr.

Castillo is the executive judge in RTC in Carigara, Leyte and acting presiding judge in the sole Family Court in Tacloban City.

Castillo holds three days of hearing in RTC Tacloban and only two days in Carigara by virtue of an appointment issued by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno early last year.

As to the guidelines, he said: “Positive-wise, it would put flesh into the spirit of the constitutional and statutory rights of accused to speedy trial. On the negative side, courts nationwide are burdened with heavy cases load in the average.”

Castillo also sees constraints in the compliance of the new guidelines although as he said his courts have been following the speedy trial law since he assumed as presiding judge in 2007.

He cited, for instance, vacant courts where there are acting presiding judges and in some cases, there are assisting judges, such as RTC Branch 7, the only Family Court within the jurisdiction of RTC Tacloban.

Although Castillo considered these constraints, he is optimistic that the new guidelines for continuous trial of criminal cases can still be done, “provided that court is not burdened with heavy case load.”

“As long as our bodies can sustain, as long as the staff of the court can sustain, no problem because that is what we are here for – to deliver justice in the fastest, speediest and very expedient way,” Castillo added.

For his part, RTC Branch 7 assisting judge Cicero Lampasa said: “The Supreme Court’s implementation of continuous trial of criminal cases in all courts is a welcome development.”

Lampasa, concurrently a permanent presiding judge in RTC Catbalogan City, considered it a “significant step to reduce in a radical manner the caseload of the courts,” adding, “justice is supposed to be swift, but still observant of due process.”

Lampasa likewise remarked: “This reform, initiated by Chief Justice Sereno and the magistrates, gives flesh to the constitutional guaranteed to provide litigants a speedy, just and equitable trial of their cases.” (FREEMAN)

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