Third Quarter 2011


Justice Azcuna

SOCIAL MEDIA NETWORKING

As PHILJA continues to engage in its regular and special workshops and training seminars, I invite attention to the possibilities of accessing social media networking to increase the range of our knowledge exchange and sharing modules.

For my part, I ventured on trying Facebook and have set up the “Philippine Justice Network” as a forum for views on the justice system in the Philippines.

I started with a series of short entries of one-page articles.

I would like to reproduce them here:

Our System of Courts

The Philippine Justice Network was born yesterday when I decided to try my hand at Facebook when a dental surgery appointment turned out not to be needed.

First, what are courts? Do we need them? Why? What powers do they have? From where do they derive these? How do they function? How are they structured?

Courts are places for settling disputes between people or between people and government. They are needed because disputes have to be resolved with finality. They function by providing the parties a forum for presenting their sides of the case and then applying the law to the facts as it finds them. They derive such power from the Constitution which grants the Judicial power to the courts.

Our courts are structured in a four layer-hierarchy. The first level courts are the municipal and city courts which receive the simplest cases. The next are the regional trial courts which receive more complicated cases and appeals from the first level. Next are the intermediate appellate courts – the Court of Appeals, the Sandiganbayan and the Court of Tax Appeals. At the summit is the Supreme Court, our highest court.

Due Process and the Rule of Law

Judges and courts are sworn to go about this task of settling disputes brought before them by following prescribed ways that we may simply call due process and the rule of law.

What this means is that the courts and judges have to hear first before they condemn, proceed by inquiry and render judgment only after hearing (Webster's take on due process), and that they must be fair and impartial, applying the law equally to all in the same factual situation without fear or favor (rule of law).

Furthermore, they must dispense justice speedily and effectively, that is, render timely and complete justice.

These age-old paradigms present a difficult but all-important task.

Philippine Courts Statistics (Trial Courts)*

As of December 31, 2010:    
Total Number of Judicial Positions -  2,197
Total Number of Incumbents -  1,606
Total Number of Vacancies - 591
Vacancy Rate - 26.90%
Total Number of Pending Cases - 587,812
     
As of May 31, 2011:    
Total Number of Pending Cases -  596,661

 

*Source: Office of the Court Administrator

The Care and Running of the Courts

The Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Renato C. Corona, is charged with the care and running of all our courts.

It does this firstly through the Court Administrator, the Hon. Jose Midas P. Marquez, and the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA). The OCA attends to the needs of the courts and receives complaints against judges. If warranted, the Court considers these complaints and after due hearing metes out disciplinary measures including fines, suspensions, and dismissals.

There is also the Supreme Court's Academy for the courts. It is called the Philippine Judicial Academy (PHILJA), of which I am the Chancellor. PHILJA is tasked by law with the training of judges and court personnel.

It has some 200 people all told and an Academic Council, as well as a corps of professors. It will soon reopen its Tagaytay training facilities (PHILJA Training Center) which were renovated and expanded.

Seeing Reality, Seeking Justice

As part of my Supreme Court retirement, i came out with two books, one titled "Seeking Justice in Today's World" and the other "Seeing Reality in Today's World."

I believe judges should be attuned to their surrounding reality. My street photography helps in this by making me aware of people's day to day lives in the immediate way. So for this posting I selected these photos for sharing.

Philippine Judicial Reform Program

The Philippine Judiciary has been undertaking a program of structural and people-oriented reform called Action Program for Judicial Reform (APJR) started by Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr. and continued up to now under Chief Justice Renato C. Corona.

It has six major components but, essentially, it targets people, cases, systems, and resources. A USD 120 Million loan from the World Bank to the Philippine Government started its implementation. So far we have seen the beginnings of computerization of our courts and its case management, the training of our judges and court personnel on the Code of Conduct for the Judiciary, the construction of model court houses in Mactan (finished), in Angeles (to be finished) and in Manila (not yet started), and the launching of the Justice on Wheels project of the Supreme Court.

Also, the Academy for judges will have a modern, state-of-the-art training facility in Tagaytay, set to start operations late this year, funded by a P300 Million grant from Japan, and a World Bank loan (part of the APJR) for the equipment which includes a Global Distance Learning Center. It has a four-storey lodging facility attached to a main facility consisting of an auditorium, training rooms, a library and archive, offices, and an Annex Training Facility with sports and exercise equipment.

On September 12 this year, a Revised and Expanded Benchbook for trial judges will be launched by the Supreme Court which will provide our trial judges with the latest jurisprudence on all branches of law at their fingertips, in both hard copy (2-volumes of ring-bound material) and a searchable CD.

Helpbook on Human Rights Issues

Recently launched by the Supreme Court is a Helpbook on Human Rights Issues: Extralegal Killings and Enforced Disappearances. Produced by the Philippine Judicial Academy with the help of the USAID and The Asia Foundation, it contains in easy-to-follow format of six chapters with colored headings, covering the topics: Situationer, Investigation, The Commission on Human Rights, Prosecution, The Judicial Process, and the Role of Civil Society. It has useful tables, sidebars, and figures. Furthermore, the needed forms are contained in an attached CD. The rules on the relationship of media and the courts and on personal security of judges are annexed (pp. 259-271).

Initially, copies are being provided to our trial court judges and other stakeholders in the human rights field including leading NGOs, the PNP, the DOJ and the CHR.

The Research, Publications and Linkages Office (RPLO) of the Philippine Judicial Academy should be able to respond to further inquiries. (RPLO Tel. No. 552-9524 or e-mail at research_philja@yahoo.com ).

The Judiciary's Budget - The Latest Wrinkle

The entire Judiciary (Supreme Court and all lower courts including the three appellate courts under it) receives almost one percent (1%) of the national budget. This usually translates to P14 Billion. As this is sorely lacking, the Supreme Court has to supplement it with funds raised through court filing fees. This is what is called JDF (Judiciary Development Fund). This usually is in the neighborhood of P2 Billion yearly. The JDF is required to be apportioned into 80% for salaries and 20% for capital expenditures.

Furthermore, Congress passed a law to add, through an increase of filing fees, to the salaries of Justices and judges at 20% yearly increments over a 5-year period, thus doubling it at the end of the exercise, which ended a year ago. After salaries have been doubled, this SAJJ (Salary Adjustment for Justice and Judges) component is supposed to be appropriated as part of the regular yearly appropriations for Congress (this is not yet being done).

Now, there are about 2,197 trial courts of which 591 are vacant. These vacant positions are funded by Congress even if, being vacant, the portion of the budget intended for them becomes savings for the courts. These savings are very crucial to the operation of the courts as these are the source of employees’ benefits and other necessary expenses that arise. These savings are allocated and realigned as needed by the Chief Justice in accordance with the exigencies of court operations.

These savings under the proposed budget for 2011 are in the order of P1.8 Billion.

The Department of Budget and Management wants to put all savings across all government offices into one fund called the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Fund (MPBF) to be released by DBM if and when the positions covering them are filled or presumably, the personnel benefit expense or other expedient measure is approved by the corresponding office from which it was taken. In this case, the courts or Judiciary.

The proposal is supported by the House of Representatives but met rough sailing in the Senate.

The reason for the objection – This is deemed contrary to the provision of the Constitution that states: “The Judiciary shall enjoy fiscal autonomy. Appropriations for the Judiciary may not be reduced by the legislature below the amount appropriated for the previous year and, after approval, shall be automatically and regularly released.” (Art. VIII, Sec. 3, Phil. Constitution).

If the Supreme Court has to go to the DBM for the release of a portion of its approved appropriations every time it needs it, then, it is not being automatically and regularly released.

This is the bone of contention and the result still hangs in the balance.

A good number of court employees are proposing to wear black on Mondays to protest the MPBF.

All the best, friends in Facebook and in real life!


ADOLFO S. AZCUNA

PHILJA-Information Systems Division, Administrative Office and Research, Publication and Linkages Office ©LAR2014

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