The ABA Rule of Law Initiative’s (ABA ROLI’s) past judicial reform efforts in the Philippines include:
Supporting small claims courts
Following a 2007–2010 ABA ROLI-Philippine Supreme Court collaboration on a successful pilot project involving 44 small claims courts, the Supreme Court institutionalized the implementation of the Rule of Procedure for Small Claims Cases. On March 18, 2010, small claims courts were established in all of the country’s 1,137 first-level courts. To support the implementation, ABA ROLI and the Supreme Court trained more than 3,000 judges and court personnel, and distributed a Small Claims Handbook containing rules of procedure and administrative guidelines. ABA ROLI also coordinated video-supported public outreach campaigns on the small claims courts.
In 2011, ABA ROLI and the Supreme Court launched the small claims case monitoring system (SC2MS), a computer system used to track small claims cases, in all 1,137 trial courts across the nation. The first nationwide automation of the trial courts enables courts to immediately connect with the central administrative office in Manila for updates and circulars, and to generate and send automatic reports to the Supreme Court.
The small claims courts have enabled an expedited, fair and affordable resolution of everyday disputes by using template pleadings and court orders, encouraging judicially supervised settlement negotiations and streamlining procedures. The courts have also helped expand access to justice and decongest the country’s overloaded courts.
Implementing case management information systems
In 2010, building on its previous court automation initiative, ABA ROLI reconfigured the case management information system (CMIS) program in the Sandiganbayan (anti-graft courts), the Court of Tax Appeals and the Court of Appeals to improve the software’s functionality, operability and efficiency. The enhancements enabled justices and court personnel monitor and track status of their cases. The CMIS is fully operational in each of these appellate and collegial courts, and ABA ROLI has trained judges and court personnel on its use.
Reducing court delays
ABA ROLI and key judicial sector stakeholders have developed revised court rules for pilot implementation in Quezon City, the nation’s largest trial court system. The rules introduce modern litigation streamlining techniques to reduce the number of trial delays, moderate inessential and costly motion practice, remove backlogs and improve the overall efficacy of the trial courts.
To implement the rules, ABA ROLI developed a framework to build a database of the caseload of Quezon City trial courts to enable court administrators to monitor litigation and identify impediments. ABA ROLI has also worked with the Supreme Court to design an auditing program that identifies obstacles to speedy case resolution in those courts with large numbers of unresolved cases. Court auditors have conducted diagnostic case management reviews in 17 selected trial courts.
Promoting consistent and efficient case adjudication
ABA ROLI worked with partners, including the Philippines Judicial Academy (PHILJA), to produce a manual—the Revised Trial Court Benchbook—for judges and lawyers. A total of 2,500 copies of the two-volume manual, which helps ensure consistency in decision-making and covers different case types, were printed in 2011 and distributed across the country. ABA ROLI assisted PHILJA in providing nationwide trainings to trial court judges on its use. Additionally, ABA ROLI and PHILJA have developed sentencing guidelines, which provide a user-friendly mechanism to calculate sentences for the most commonly charged criminal offenses.
Promoting arbitration to resolve commercial disputes
Arbitration has emerged as an important tool in resolving commercial disputes around the globe. But arbitration has been less useful in the Philippines, as courts often second-guess arbitration clauses, requiring parties to spend time and resources re-litigating disputes that were already settled in arbitration. ABA ROLI assisted the Office for Alternative Dispute Resolution (OADR) in developing standards to train and certify arbitrators. In collaboration with the Philippine Dispute Resolution Center and the OADR, ABA ROLI developed a training curriculum for lawyers on the Philippine Arbitration Law, its implementing rules and the accompanying Supreme Court circular. To encourage speedier resolution of commercial disputes, the curriculum promotes the sanctity of contracts, respect by the courts for local and international arbitral proceedings and broad use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in business transactions.
Building the capacity of special commercial courts
Created in 2001, the special commercial courts (SCCs) handle intellectual property and bankruptcy cases and matters formerly under the jurisdiction of the Securities and Exchange Commission. However, these courts have had difficulty applying general business-related laws and resolving urgent matters—such as the issuance of temporary restraining orders—in a timely manner. To address these problems, ABA ROLI has coordinated with the judiciary to assess the courts’ procedures, design capacity building activities and, where necessary, develop practice guidelines. In 2012, ABA ROLI worked with PHILJA in training almost all of the country’s SCC judges on the Financial Rehabilitation and Insolvency Act and provided assistance in the development of a manual for judges. Recognizing the impact of these capacity building initiatives, the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines leveraged its resources and trained SCC judges on intellectual property rules.
Developing codes of professional conduct
In 2010, ABA ROLI assisted the Philippines Department of Justice to develop a code of professional ethics for prosecutors by incorporating international perspective to existing provisions in the code.In 2011, ABA ROLI worked on a similar code for the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), whose lawyers serve as public defenders to the indigent. The code combines three booklets developed by ABA ROLI and PAO in 2010—the Code of Conduct for Public Attorneys and Employees of the Public Attorney's Office, the PAO Operations Manual and Consolidated PAO's Legal Forms—with international case examples as well as PAO disciplinary cases. A series of nationwide trainings on the codes of conduct for prosecutors and public attorneys has also been provided.
Operationalizing the Office for Competition
In 2011, President Aquino issued an executive order establishing an Office for Competition within the Department of Justice. The executive order represents a significant landmark in the implementation of antitrust rules in the Philippines. To be effective, the office needs well organized and trained staff and resources for investigating and prosecuting anti-competitive conduct. ABA ROLI helped the office develop an organizational structure, facilitating a study of existing laws and procedures and working on proposed guidelines for enforcing existing competition laws.
Building the Internal Affairs Unit’s capacity
ABA ROLI worked with the Philippine Department of Justice to build the capacity of its Internal Affairs Unit (IAU), which enforces the code of conduct for prosecutors and support staff. ABA ROLI helped to develop an operations manual, guiding the investigation of allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. To support the manual’s implementation, ABA ROLI also facilitated an orientation seminar to familiarize members of the IAU on the specific guidelines set for the conduct of investigation Additionally, ABA ROLI designed a computerized system to aid the unit in monitoring and tracking investigations of prosecutorial misconduct.
Supporting national elections
ABA ROLI, in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and Libertás—a nonpartisan association of Filipino fair-election advocates—helped the Philippine Supreme Court prepare for potential disputes in the lead up to the first fully-automated national elections of May 2010. In February of that year, ABA ROLI and IFES held a series of conferences on dispute resolution in automated elections for judges, election lawyers and civil society leaders, where Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson and veteran election lawyer Jack Young shared lessons they learned from high-profile, automated election litigation. On April 27, 2010, the Philippine Supreme Court published the 2010 Rules of Procedure in Election Contests to guide regional trial courts in resolving election disputes. Prior to election day, more than 600 judges from the Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao regions were trained on the new rules, and about 1,000 digital reference materials—containing relevant election laws, court issuances and training lectures—were distributed.
Assisting lower courts in Mindanao
Stunted by local poverty and poor governance, the first-level courts in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao lack even furnishings as basic as writing desks and evidence lockers. ABA ROLI and USAID conducted a needs assessment, and then equipped these courts with adequate furnishings to enable them to safely and systematically store case files and evidence, including firearms. ABA ROLI believes furnishing the courts, coupled with staff training, has allowed a more efficient administration of cases, which in turn has improved public perception of the judiciary.
Strengthening judicial integrity
In 2009, the Philippine Supreme Court completed its integrity development review to assess corruption vulnerabilities in its administrative systems through a systematic identification of areas and practices that undermine the judiciary’s institutional performance and integrity.
With support from ABA ROLI and USAID, the review was extended to appellate and trial courts nationwide. Workshops were conducted to familiarize appellate court justices and more than 400 local trial court judges and officers with the review process, and to solicit their input. Reforms included the introduction of whistle-blower protection and an internal financial audits mechanism, as well as the establishment of an independent, centralized office to resolve complaints against judicial personnel in a more timely and transparent manner. In May 2010, the Court Administrator presented the judicial integrity development plan before the Chief Justice and key officers of the court for consideration.