Three reforms to speed up justice

To speed up the delivery of justice, three significant reforms were instituted recently: (1) the “Judicial Affidavit Rule,” (2) the filling up of all judicial vacancies, and (3) the stabilization of judicial compensation.

Judicial affidavit. To ease case congestion and minimize delays in the trial courts, the Supreme Court promulgated on Sept. 4 (to take effect on Jan. 1, 2013) the Judicial Affidavit Rule. Under this new system sponsored by two high court committees headed by Justices Antonio T. Carpio and Roberto A. Abad, witnesses will no longer be examined via tedious and lengthy questions and answers to procure their direct testimonies.

Instead, the parties shall submit affidavits in a language known to the witness, accompanied by their translation in English or Filipino. The adverse party shall, however, retain the right to cross-examine the witnesses on their affidavits and on the exhibits or documents attached or annexed thereto.

This rule shall be applied in all civil cases as well as in criminal cases “where the maximum of the imposable penalty does not exceed six years,” or “where the accused agrees to the use of judicial affidavits, irrespective of the penalty involved.”

The Supreme Court observed that a “piloting (of the rule in Quezon City) quickly resulted in reducing by about two-thirds the time used for presenting the testimonies of witnesses.” And if I may add, affidavits have long been used in preliminary investigations of crimes in the prosecutors’ offices. In these proceedings, cross-examinations are not even conducted by the adverse parties, but “clarificatory questions,” when needed, may be asked by the prosecutors, not by the opposing counsels. The result is a much faster disposition of cases.

Trial court vacancies. Sen. Franklin Drilon discovered, during a recent hearing of the Senate committee on finance he heads, that 591 trial courts, or about 26 percent of all “organized” trial courts, are vacant. No wonder case congestion and delays plague the system, he concluded.

He observed that these vacancies were funded in the national budget. But the money allocated for them were saved, “realigned” and disbursed as additional compensation for sitting judges and court personnel. In addition, docket fees were increased and used also to support additional judicial allowances called SAJ (“Special Allowance for Judges”). In the past, these “realignments” and use of SAJ irritated relations between the Supreme Court on the one hand, and Malacañang and Congress on the other.

In response to Drilon, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno, who now chairs the Judicial and Bar Council, agreed to hasten the short list for all vacancies to enable President Aquino to fill them up such that by 2015, the entire judicial machinery would be fully functioning, which also means there will be no more “savings” to augment judicial compensation.

Stabilizing judicial compensation. To solve this “no-more-savings” problem, the executive branch represented by Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad and the legislative branch represented by Drilon (Senate finance committee chair) and Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya (House appropriations committee chair) agreed, during a private meeting I hosted, to provide enough funds from the national treasury to retain and stabilize the present compensation of judges, as follows:

Regional trial court judges—P128,198.66 a month, composed of P73,099 basic salary plus P29,766.66 allowances and P25,333 SAJ; metropolitan trial judges—P119,209.66 composed of P67,684 basic plus P27,166.66 allowances and P24,359 SAJ; and municipal trial judges—ranging from a total of P110,925.33 to P102,612.33 a month.

These three reforms are interrelated. The first will significantly shorten the actual time for trials. The second will increase the number of judges by more than 25 percent. And the third will help raise the quality of judges by enticing upright and competent lawyers to join the judiciary through a more stable compensation system. Stable and adequate compensation will also help judges resist indecent proposals from litigants.

Of course, many more radical reforms are needed. Also, some complicated pending litigations, like the Ampatuan multiple-murder cases, require special attention. I will write on them later. But for now, these three reforms make good beginnings.

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Liberty and Prosperity. The Foundation for Liberty and Prosperity (FLP), which was organized on my 75th birthday last December, will formally launch 10 “Professorial Chairs on Liberty and Prosperity” on Tuesday, Sept. 18, at the Metrobank Auditorium in Makati, with Chief Justice Sereno as guest of honor.

The first seven holders of these chairs are retired Justice Adolfo Azcuna (chancellor, Philippine Judicial Academy), Dean Andres Bautista (Far Eastern University Institute of Law), Dean Sedfrey Candelaria (Ateneo de Manila College of Law), Dean Danilo Concepcion (University of the Philippines College of Law), Dean Jose Manuel Diokno (De La Salle College of Law), Dean Nilo Divina (University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Civil Law) and retired Justice Antonio Eduardo Nachura (chair, Arellano Law Foundation).

Three more will be chosen from schools outside Metro Manila, one each from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. In addition to their regular pay, each chair holder will receive a stipend of P200,000 per school year. The FLP professorial chairs project is cosponsored by the Metrobank Foundation and supported by Metro Pacific Investments Corp.

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