‘80 percent of backlog involve criminal cases’

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous en banc resolution dated Jan. 8, noted a startling statistic that “80 percent of the backlog in the first- and second-level courts involve criminal cases, and that delays in those cases are caused mainly by lack of prosecutors, absence of prosecution witnesses, and lack of PAO (Public Attorneys’ Office) lawyers.” (First-level courts are city and municipal courts, while second-level courts are regional trial courts.)

No deferment. In an earlier resolution dated Sept. 4, 2012, adopting the Judicial Affidavit Rule (JAR), the Court already observed that “about 40 percent of criminal cases are dismissed annually” because complainants “simply give up coming to court after repeated postponements.” It added that “few foreign businessmen make long-term investments in the Philippines because its courts are unable to provide ample and speedy protection to their investments, keeping its people poor.”

Thus, the Court was constrained to turn down the request of the Prosecutors’ League of the Philippines, dated Dec. 12, 2012, to defer the implementation of the JAR. Contrary to some confusing media reports, the JAR took effect on Jan. 1 as scheduled, except that instead of preparing new judicial affidavits, public prosecutors were given one year, from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2013, to file in the trial courts the sworn statements that the complainant used in initiating the criminal action in the fiscals’ office. But when private prosecutors assist public prosecutors, the one-year moratorium will not apply.

Recall that on Sept. 4, 2012 (see my column of Sept. 12), the Court issued the landmark JAR to hasten the delivery of justice by requiring the submission of affidavits, in lieu of the cumbersome question-and-answer method of procuring the direct testimony of witnesses.

The JAR covers all civil and criminal cases, except when the imposable penalty exceeds six years of imprisonment. Nonetheless, if the accused agree to the use of judicial affidavits in these criminal cases with over 6-year penalties, the JAR would still apply. Of course, the adverse party retains the right to cross-examine the affiants to test their credibility and truthfulness.

Job for De Lima. While agreeing with the intrinsic merit of the new JAR, the Prosecutors’ League asked for a deferment because the Department of Justice did not have enough personnel to prepare the needed affidavits.

To be sure, the Court did not find fault with the prosecutors. It probably understood that, aside from prosecuting criminal cases in the trial courts, they also hear preliminary investigations and are at times harassed by cantankerous and nitpicking litigants.

Instead, the Court was focused on hastening justice, saying that it “expects the public prosecutors … to take steps during the one-year modified compliance period (i) to seek the needed augmentation of their ranks; and (ii) to develop methods and systems that would enable them to fully comply with the requirements of the Judicial Affidavit Rule when the modified compliance period ends.”

Consistent with the “daang matuwid,” I urge the feisty and reform-minded Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, the boss of all prosecutors and public attorneys, to take up this challenge directly and implement immediately the high court’s directive. This is a job that is really cut out for her. After all, both President Aquino and the Supreme Court have a common aspiration to speed up the delivery of quality justice. And the Judicial Affidavit Rule aims precisely to fulfill that aspiration.

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On the labor front. The Supreme Court resolved the “conundrum of whether a complaint for illegal dismissal is cognizable” by the labor arbiters of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) or by the regional trial courts.

Matling Industrial Commercial Corp. vs Coros (Oct. 13, 2010), penned by Justice Lucas P. Bersamin, held that officers whose positions are not expressly stated in the Corporation Code or in the corporate bylaws are deemed regular employees and may be dismissed from the service only (1) for a valid and legal cause and (2) after strict compliance with due process. Any controversy involving such dismissal is cognizable by the NLRC.

On the other hand, officers whose positions are expressly mentioned in the Corporation Code or in the bylaws are considered corporate officers. They may be dismissed only through an act (or refusal to act) of the board of directors, such as the nonrenewal of the officer’s appointment during the annual organizational meeting of the board.

Such power to appoint cannot be delegated to any corporate officer. Any dispute involving such dismissal is deemed an “intracorporate controversy” and falls within the jurisdiction of regional trial courts, not the NLRC. Originally, such jurisdiction was conferred on the Securities and Exchange Commission, but the Securities Regulation Code, effective on Aug. 8, 2000, transferred it and all other intracorporate disputes to the regional trial courts.

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Congratulations to Sen. Edgardo J. Angara for his unanimous election as chair of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (Gopac). Attended by 500 delegates, Gopac concluded its 5th International Conference yesterday (Friday). Angara will end his term in the Senate in June and is not running for any other public office. But he will be busy spearheading the worldwide battle against corruption from the Gopac head office in Ottawa, Canada.

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