June 15, 2017

Judicial Reform Initiatives Gain Momentum in the Philippines

In its final year of implementation, the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative’s (ABA ROLI) Judicial Strengthening to Improve Court Effectiveness (JUSTICE) program in the Philippines has gained momentum in a number of reform areas, indicating sustainability of outcomes on a nationwide level.

Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), ABA ROLI’s eCourt court automation program, a JUSTICE project reform, has made significant progress toward becoming a sustainable institution in court stations throughout the country. As eCourt transforms a court’s case processing procedures from manual to fully electronic, ABA ROLI is working to ensure judges and court staff are confident in their ability to use the system. To date, ABA ROLI has trained 1,886 judges and court personnel from 204 Philippine courts on the use of eCourt.

With the JUSTICE project closing in March 2018, the Philippine judiciary has taken steps toward ownership of eCourt administration and training. In March 2017, ABA ROLI trained the Supreme Court’s Management Information Systems Office (MISO) on eCourt administration, including relevant policy matters, rollout procedures, systems configuration, troubleshooting and software testing methodologies. The training reached 21 MISO personnel, who were assigned to each of the 10 eCourt-equipped cities where they will act as eCourt system administrators and troubleshooters. Such transitional activities are essential to ensuring that the Philippine judiciary has the capacity to sustain eCourt on its own.

In another step towards program sustainability, the Philippine Congress — through the General Appropriations Act of 2016 — provided funding to the Philippine Supreme Court for the hiring and training of more than 600 Court Decongestion Officers. These officers will continue the court decongestion program ABA ROLI and its sub-grantee, the Asia Foundation, designed and implemented over the past four years to lessen the case backlog in overloaded court stations. From 2012-15, the program resulted in the disposal or archival of 16,518 pending cases across 119 court branches.

Originally intended as a one-time effort under the JUSTICE project, the decongestion program was so well-received judges asked for its continuance. With funding from Congress, the program can now be sustained without external support. The Philippine Supreme Court has trained and deployed 694 Court Decongestion Officers to courts nationwide. These efforts will help courts manage caseloads as JUSTICE’s more systemic reforms take hold.

One of JUSTICE’s more systematic reforms is the “Revised Guidelines for Continuous Trial of Criminal Cases” initiative, which encompasses revisions to civil and criminal procedure codes aimed at streamlining delay-prone phases of litigation. ABA ROLI began piloting the revisions in 2012 in Quezon City, which by 2016 had resulted in an average decrease in case processing time of more than 60 percent. The increased efficiency allowed Quezon City courts to reduce their average caseload by seven percent in 2012, nine percent in 2013 and 10 percent in 2014.

Based on the successful results of the pilot, the Philippine Supreme Court prioritized the reforms for nationwide rollout in October 2016. The rollout was launched on May 18, 2017, at a training for judges and court staff on the Revised Guidelines, led by the Asia Foundation. The rollout of the revised rules is a strong indicator of sustainable reform and will help advance and protect litigants’ constitutional right to speedy resolution of cases throughout the country. In the long term, courts’ speedier resolution of contractual disputes should contribute to economic growth, one of the key objectives of the JUSTICE project.

To learn more about our work in the Philippines, please contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org