Today is Monday, May 21, 2018

Culture of Delay

By J. Martin S. Villarama, Jr.

One characteristically Filipino trait we are not exactly proud of is the habit of procrastination and delay. Understandably so when "Filipino Time", "Mamaya na" and "Saka na bahala na" translates into all kinds of manifestation of inefficiency in government such as red tape and bureaucratic fiascos. Delivery of government services nationwide suffers from constant delays and the judiciary is no exception.

It is trite to say that the wheels of justice in our country move so exceedingly  slow, or at snail's pace. Almost every litigant we know has experienced delay in one form or another. As to how such incidents affect the overall perception of the courts' functioning depends on the extent of resources of the parties and length of time it took for their dispute to be finally resolved. Delays in the justice system elicit a host of reactions, from the humorous to traumatic. But in the same way that the public has come to accept delay as deeply ingrained in our culture, protracted litigations are viewed as simply normal. It cannot be gainsaid though that delay resulting from collective inefficiency seriously erodes public trust in the courts. Much as we deplore it, delay is seen as engendering case-fixing and other corrupt practices that sadly taint the judiciary as a whole.

The Supreme Court has resolutely addressed the problem of clogged dockets and worked incessantly to reduce and eliminate backlog of cases especially in the lower courts. Under the Action Program for Judicial Reform (APJR) supported with grants and loans from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the Australian AID, complementary projects are being implemented to improve case flow, achieve zero backlog in the higher courts, promote alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods by institutionalizing mediation and computerizing the internal processes of the judiciary and making them more transparent.

In the Court of Appeals, we have made steady progress in the Zero Backlog Project began from the time of former Presiding Justice now SC Associate Justice Alicia Austria-Martinez and continued by her successors.  Under the dynamic and competent leadership of former PJ and presently SC Associate Justice Ruben T. Reyes, in the one-year period between June 2005 and June 2006, the CA averaged a monthly disposal of 850 decisions, or about 13 to 14 cases per Justice. About half of the number of Justices accomplished more than the minimum requirement of 12 cases. From a total of 11,343 cases submitted for decision in 2001, the CA has considerably reduced its backlog to 9,387 cases as of August 31, 2007.

Aside from unclogging the CA docket, we are set to implement the computerization of the Management Information System (MIS), which will greatly facilitate tracking of cases from completion stage until final disposition. Recently, we had ground-laying of the One Stop Processing Center which is aimed at making follow-up and inquiries on status of cases easier for litigants and their counsel. Evidently, the prevention of unnecessary delays entails not just speeding up case disposition but maintaining efficiency and diligence of all personnel involved in every step of the appellate process.

The Judicial Records Division headed by Mr. Fernando C. Prieto, under the Committee on Records Management and Information Services which is presently chaired by yours truly, is continuously undertaking measures to make JRD more service-oriented. Such current reforms ensure that the Archives Section and Receiving Section are more accessible to the needs of the general public. For obvious reasons, JRD being at the frontline of the CA's public service, the problem of delay is a matter of continuing study for our committee as we focus on all possible ways to further improve current systems and procedures in receiving, docketing, records keeping and archiving. We recall that the JRD has succeeded in updating its backlog of cases pending for remand by the Archives Section. The JRD is determined to continue devising means and mechanisms to enable it to (1) extend services to the public without discrimination; (2) speed up remand of cases to the court or agency of origin; (3) maintain the safety and integrity of case records; and (4) observe courtesy and transparency at all times in dealing with litigants and the public in general.

At this point, it must be mentioned that an important component of the APJR is the development of a new Performance Evaluation System solely for the judiciary, which was launched by the SC in September 2006. The long-term objective of the Performance Management System for Court Personnel (PMS-COUPER) is "the efficient and speedy delivery of justice in the country." The Code of Conduct for Court Personnel equally emphasizes efficiency, competence and integrity in carrying out duties and responsibilities, pursuant to the constitutional mandate for government employees to serve the people "with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty [and] efficiency". Specifically for employees in the judiciary, we remind ourselves as we go to work everyday that in doing our tasks well, there is nothing which the public has to thank us for. WE, whose salaries, court buildings and resources are funded by taxpayers' money, owe it rather to these persons in fulfillment of their constitutional right to a speedy disposition of their cases in all judicial bodies. Absolutely, there is no excuse for laziness in the busy halls of justice.

Upon his assumption as the 22nd Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, CJ Reynato S. Puno declared that he is "no less resolute in addressing the perennial problem of delay in the resolution of cases and case backlog through the Court's Action Program for Judicial Reform". The Chief Justice has acted swiftly, sparing no one in this Court, as we already know, to impose the ultimate penalty of dismissal to a Member and certain employees found guilty of misconduct and inefficiency. It is also public knowledge that he summoned CA chairpersons to "communicate to them his deep concern on the alleged widespread corruption in the judiciary." When asked during one of his inaugural interviews how he wishes to be remembered as SC Chief Justice, CJ Puno made it clear he has no greater ambition than that he has "contributed to the cleansing of the judiciary, in the diminution of the backlog of court cases, in fostering a swifter and more efficient justice, in cultivating more public confidence in the Supreme Court." Agreeing that weeding out corruption is his biggest challenge as Chief Justice, CJ Puno further said that if that is done, we "will have a judiciary that will deserve the support and confidence of the people" and "that is the only capital of the judiciary -- the integrity of the system. If you lose this capital, you lose the system."

This rightful indignation and determination of the SC leadership to curb corruption in the judiciary is truly a drastic response to the worsening problem of government corruption in the Philippines. The SC as guardian of civil liberties and protector of human rights is simply fulfilling its role in helping combat corruption and abuse of power within its own ranks. Current discourse on the crisis of corruption afflicting governments underscore good governance as a human right. The most significant bases for good governance are found in no less than the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights which in Article 21 (2) states that: "Everyone has a right of equal access to public service in his country". One of the primary characteristics of good governance is the rule of law. "The rule of law requires that both the goals and the process of achieving such goals be in accord with the law without sacrificing the rights of others." This "human rights approach to corruption" thus recognizes the imperative for analyzing the link between corruption and human rights in the light of the principles of good democratic governance. For indeed, "corruption undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violation of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life, and allows organized crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish". Corrupt acts and practices are therefore tantamount to violations of basic human rights. In the context of judicial proceedings, this would mean that any attempt to favor a party to a suit, for considerations other than the merits of his or her cause, constitutes in itself a human rights violation, separate and distinct from the public servant's commission of such criminal act or administrative offenses under certain laws and regulations. Prejudice and injustice even to a winning party may also result from delay as immortalized by the dictum: "Justice delayed is justice denied."

On a personal level, I could say that there is indeed much hope. I have witnessed the sincerity and determination on the part of both Members and employees of this Court to continuously improve the dispensation of justice and prevent needless delays. In the words of former PJ Ruben T. Reyes, the Zero Backlog for the CA is not an impossible dream, going by the monthly reports of the Information and Statistics Division showing the capacity of the Justices to decide in one year as many cases as are submitted for decision. Above all, we are all guided by a shared commitment to serve litigants with fairness that is the hallmark of due process. As we unite efforts in heeding the call for judicial reforms, I strongly believe the "culture of delay" visualized in the "slow as turtle" image of the Philippine judiciary, will soon be a thing of the past.

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