By J. Martin S. Villarama, Jr.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
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.