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Essence Of Justice For The Marginalized

By J. Myrna Dimaranan Vidal


Webster's dictionary defines justice as the use of authority to maintain what is just. It is likewise referred to as the assignment of merited rewards or punishments. However, what is rather stark is Cicero's description of justice, viz: the disposition of the human mind to render everyone his due. Verily, this includes political justice, social and economic justice, which should be viewed in the light of the fact that more than half of the Philippine population today is in an unimaginable sad economic state. Undeniably, the Philippines houses people who are suffering from hunger or deprivation in matters of nutrition and public health, exploitation in all forms and other human rights violations; and who, when aggrieved and violated, are unable to seek redress before the bar of justice, remains meek and silenced by poverty, despite the Constitutional and statutory declarations on rights to life, property and personal liberty. Thus, it is in this context that the ability of a person to approach the proper authority and successfully present his grievance on rights violated is put to issue.

During the Supreme Court sponsored “Forum On Increasing Access to Justice”, Chief Justice REYNATO S. PUNO zeroed in on the dilemma of the seemingly unrealistic maxim of equity, which promises solution to every wrong done, and which, notably, is never fully enjoyed by the poor and has remained to be a “mere promise”. In the strong words of Chief Justice PUNO: These are times that try the souls of men. But while we cannot win the fight for the poor overnight, we should prevail overtime. There is only one way to lose this fight – when we lose our sense of revolt on the revolting lives of the poor. Yes, we can win this fight provided we beat the enemy – the enemy of exhaustion.

Fortunately, the Judiciary has been actively working on its role in making the idea of justice to be realistic for the poor. Since the time of then Chief Justice HILARIO G. DAVIDE, the Supreme Court, through its Action Program for Judicial Reform (APJR), has been vigorously involved in the development of projects which aimed at reforming the country's justice system. It has continued to undertake its self-imposed duty of delivering justice in its truest sense, especially to the underprivileged sector of our society.

During his stint, former Chief Justice ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN vowed on giving the marginalized sector “a leg up” by, among others, leading the “mobile courts” to pull over within Rizal province, Tondo, Manila and other parts of the National Capital Region. These mobile courts, which are under the Justice on Wheels (JOW) Project of the Supreme Court, was launched in 2004, and has been intensified under the watch of Chief Justice REYNATO S. PUNO by taking it to Cebu, province of Sarangani and other parts of Mindanao. This program is yielding positive results towards the attainment of the Judiciary's thrust of increasing access to justice specifically for the poor litigants languishing in jail for years due to lack of effective legal representation, and complex and incomprehensible legal procedure.

Another essential factor in the underprivileged's inability to approach the courts of law and other quasi-judicial agencies is their means or resources. Necessarily, for a person to assert his right in court, he must be represented by counsel and must likewise shoulder the litigation expenses like docket fees. For this purpose, the Supreme Court, through its rule-making power under the Constitution, has promulgated rules to remedy this predicament. One of which is the rule on “indigent party” in Section 21, Rule 3 and Section 18, Rule 141 of the Revised Rules of Court which, inter alia, exempt an indigent litigant from paying the docket and other legal fees. Likewise, Section 2, Rule 124, in relation to Section 31, Rule 138, of the Rules, provides mechanisms on the appointment of counsel de oficio for a destitute party in criminal and other cases. In this line, Presidential Decree No. 1 created and organized the Citizen's Legal Assistance Office (CLAO), later re-organized as the Public Attorney's Office (PAO), which provides free legal services to qualified pauper litigants.

Concededly, apart from being unable to seek redress from the courts, most of the marginalized are not aware of the rights guaranteed to them and the available legal remedies. And most of those who need the help of the laws are the ones who do not understand the English language. Correspondingly, one could not expect those who can not comprehend the laws to be aware of their rights. This is the rationale why the Supreme Court is now considering the use of Filipino in court proceedings. In fact, the use of Tagalog as the language in court was pilot-tested in Bulacan and had shown very positive results, thereby the program will most likely be implemented in Tagalog-speaking provinces like Cavite, Batangas, Nueva Ecija, among others.

Truly, the Judiciary remains to be the hope of the people, especially those belonging to the marginalized sector. And it is heartening to note that it has always been committed to the goal of social justice as enshrined in the Constitution. Indeed, the Judiciary, despite the unfavorable and unpleasant publicity it recently got from the media, is and will be the last bulwark of justice, the underprivileged members of our society included. In fact, the Judiciary's war against poverty has been making waves across the country, making a great difference in every hungry soul.




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