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Mobile court resolves 20 cases in one day

July 10, 2008 05:52:00
Leila Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—The decisions came down swiftly Wednesday from judges presiding at the first hearings of a justice-on-wheels program outside the packed Manila City Jail.

In less than 15 minutes, the charge of robbery-holdup against Aldrich dela Cruz, 20, was provisionally dismissed by Judge Reynaldo Ros after the accuser failed to heed repeated summonses to appear in court since the alleged crime happened in December 2007.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno and Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim were present during the initial proceedings inside a bus that was converted into a courtroom, marking the launching of the mobile court program in Metro Manila.

The mop-haired Dela Cruz, wearing the usual yellow T-shirt of a detainee, got some words of wisdom later from Puno and Lim, who told him that he should shape up from now on and he would get all the help that he needed if he decided to put his life in order.

All told during the daylong hearings conducted by Ros and three other judges on the bus, 20 cases were resolved and the inmates got either temporary or permanent freedom from various crimes, mostly against property, for which they had been charged.

87-year-old inmate

One of the inmates who queued outside the bus was 87-year-old Juanita Fedelino, whose case for alleged drug pushing had been pending for the last six years. “Even if I didn’t do it, I will admit that I did it just to get this over with,” she said.

The justice-on-wheels program, patterned after a similar project successfully implemented in Guatemala to decongest prisons there, was launched in the Philippines four years ago with funding from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

Four buses that had been converted into courtrooms were acquired in 2004. These buses have been deployed in the provinces in an attempt to bring justice to many of the accused languishing in remote jails. With the alarming increase in prison populations in Metro Manila, Puno decided to field one in the metropolis.

The Manila City Jail is one of the most crowded in the capital. It was built to house only 1,000 inmates but is now crammed with more than 5,000.

Likely surge in crimes

Puno told reporters that he was worried that with the current economic crunch, there could be a surge in crimes.

“It’s only natural. If times are hard, crimes against property rise. That’s a big problem, the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, and the local government units, have to work together,” he said.

“The poor who are accused of illegal acts need access to justice because if you are already hungry and are oppressed by the justice system, that is a dangerous thing for a country,” Puno told reporters.

“If a person is hungry and suffers injustice, he will be thinking bad things,” he said.

Socialize justice

Puno said he had ordered an inventory of pending cases and hoped other local governments units would cooperate with the Supreme Court in the same way that Lim had.

He also said that the high court was thinking of how the additional funds would be used to bring down the cost of justice.

The proposal of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines to remove the filing fees for criminal cases, and only charge filing fees for civil cases, is being studied, he said.

“We will consider that because when you talk of criminal cases, liberty is the issue. That is why we will look into this especially if they have no money to pay these fees. Liberty is beyond cost. We will think of how to socialize the cost of justice,” he said. With Eliza Victoria, Inquirer Research

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