Because of communication and access to information difficulties in remote areas of the Philippines, local officials and their constituents have been unsure about how to apply the new Rule of Procedure for Small Claims Cases. From October through December, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and the Philippine Supreme Court co-sponsored five public information campaigns on the procedure. The U.S. Agency for International Development supported the campaigns across Mindanao and Visayas provinces. About 150 members of the local media, business community and civil society, and almost 800 newly elected barangay (district) officials attended the events.
The small claims rule provides a streamlined court procedure that resolves everyday monetary disputes at a low cost within a few months—disputes are resolved at a maximum cost of $45. Geraldine Faith Econg, program management office administrator at the Supreme Court, said that due to clogged case dockets, petty disputes going through ordinary rules of civil procedure take three to seven years to resolve, amounting to about $1,500 in litigation costs.
During his opening remarks, Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez said, “[The small claims] cases will initially be added burden to first level courts; but they have to do it for the sake of serving justice to the people, especially the less privileged.”
And the recent outreach is encouraging citizens to utilize the small claims courts to get swift justice. Bing Pabiona, a reporter from a local radio station, said that the campaigns are helping change public perception, giving the courts more recognition as an avenue for solving problems of ordinary citizens. Many of the businessmen who attended the events also said that under the old procedures, resolving money claims was time-consuming and burdensome.
“I have been discouraged from investing more money in my business due to large unpaid fees from rented equipment,” said Feliz Uv, who owns a spare parts company in Iloilo. “The small claims court procedure will directly help businesses and encourage borrowers and clients to be more prudent because the courts are now made more accessible.”
Marquez, Econg, Thelma Bahia, an assistant court administrator, and Judge Maria Filomena Singh led the public events. Encouraged by the resounding success of the small claims program, the Supreme Court plans to set up special courts to handle cases involving petty crimes whose penalty does not exceed one year imprisonment.
To learn more about our work in the Philippines, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at <[email protected]>.