Press Release
July 12, 2014

Reforms in the justice system

Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III today said his amendments to the Sandiganbayan Law would help speed up the disposition of corruption cases against erring government officials and employees.

He said Senate Bill No. 2138, which introduced his amendments, has been approved on third and final reading by the upper chamber, in a major step to address the congestion of cases in the Sandiganbayan.

The amendments were spurred by a World Bank study that showed "the average pendency of cases before the Sandiganbayan was 6.6 years in 2002 but a decade later (in 2012) increased to 9.1 years," said Pimentel, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

"Due process used to mean giving litigants their 'day' in court. Now it's meaning is closer to giving them their 'decade' in court!" Pimentel said.

Among the amendments in the bill, entitled "An Act Further Amending Presidential Decree No. 1606, as amended", are the following:

  • Reduce the quorum requirement from three to two justices for sessions in a Division, to allow it to proceed with its calendared cases even if a member is absent;

  • Introduce a "justice-designate" that would allow the Division chair to divide the "ready cases" among the justices of the Division present; and each justice can hear and receive evidence on the "ready cases" assigned to them, as well as resolve all incidents arising from said cases.

  • From unanimity to plurality rule, eliminating the need for a unanimous vote to convict an accused or render judgment; and

  • Transfer of "minor" cases to the Regional Trial Courts, leaving to the Sandiganbayan only the most significant graft cases filed against public officials. The concept of justice-designate, Pimentel said, "effectively expands the capacity of our Sandiganbayan without entailing substantial government expenditures."

The so-called "minor" cases are those where the amount of damage alleged in the information is not more than P1 million, Pimentel said.

He identified the issue of corruption, speed and the quality of decisions as three major concerns in improving the justice system.

The public widely perceives corruption "as an obstacle to the delivery of justice in this benighted land," Pimentel said, "and that justice can be bought. In short, today, strength, in the sense of 'financially strong', still prevails!" he said.

He said that, "only judges who are incorruptible must be appointed to preside over our courts. And, the corruptible must be expunged from the rolls of the judiciary without delay."

Speed in the resolution or decision of cases, Pimentel said, "is necessary to the effectiveness of the justice system."

Pimentel also pointed to the urgency in enacting the reforms because justice is a crucial requirement of national development.

"Justice is the runway which allows a society to take off so it can soar to greater heights of economic progress and provide a better quality of life for its people," he said.

He also mentioned some ideas that he wants to pursue, among them the following:

  • A "Speedy Disposition of Cases Act". He cited Art. III, Sec. 16 of the 1987 Constitution, which provides that, "All persons shall have the right to a speedy disposition of their cases before all judicial, quasi-judicial, or administrative bodies".

  • A time limit in the disposition of cases at all levels of the administration of justice.

  • The categorization of cases into easy, normal, and complex. The easy cases should not be allowed to fester and clog the court dockets, and neither should the complex cases be allowed to hold up and prolong the disposition of the easy and normal cases.

  • A law providing for a "Uniform Minimum Procedure" for all quasi-judicial or administrative cases.

  • The creation of conciliatory bodies and institutionalization of alternative modes of dispute settlement.

  • A VFA-type arrangement (cooperative law enforcement agreements, task forces, exercises) for our crime fighters, like the PNP and the NBI "so that we can learn both theory and practice from other countries."

  • Reduction of the time spent on preliminary investigation.

Pimentel said he would convene a series of Justice Summits in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao as "a venue to gather actual experience and possible solutions from various stakeholders of the justice system."

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