Aside from poor governance, a major limitation on access to justice in the Philippines is the lack of adequate resources, personnel and facilities in local courts, especially in more remote areas. Weak basic infrastructure is one of the problems courts in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) face. The lack of equipment not only impedes the prompt and efficient dispensation of justice, but also undermines the public’s confidence in the judicial system’s capacity to resolve conflicts.
In 2007, the Philippine Supreme Court launched several judicial reform projects to support lower courts and since has partnered with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide basic furnishings to regional trial courts in the ARMM. Recently, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) assisted the Supreme Court in conducting a needs assessment survey for the 33 first level ARMM courts. Survey results showed that the courts are in very poor condition, with court officials often providing their own chairs or desks to perform their duties. The survey also found that court employees either use old rice sacks or cardboard boxes to store files or simply stack documents in hallways. None of the courts had filing or storage cabinets, and very few had the means to secure evidence or even petty cash.
On March 2, ABA ROLI and the Supreme Court held a workshop in Mindanao’s Sarangani Province to present the survey findings and to solicit input from judges and clerks of ARMM courts. Chief Justice Renato Corona, Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez and the Governor of Sarangani Province Miguel Dominguez were in attendance and expressed their continued support of the efforts. The various stakeholders’ collaborative support supplements the Supreme Court’s continued efforts to strengthen and enhance ties between the national and local judicial institutions, and to address the problem of isolation of the ARMM courts.
“Words are not enough to thank USAID and ABA ROLI for this undertaking to improve court infrastructure by providing basic furniture and equipment to the first-level courts of ARMM,” said Chief Justice Corona. “We are grateful for their generosity and their efforts to improve the quality of justice in the Philippines.”
The event allowed participants to discuss challenges within the local courts. Nenita Nuñeza, a court clerk from Upi municipality, said that lack of proper storage cabinets limits her ability to serve her community. The workshop also covered court policies and procedures on disposing records, papers, exhibits of closed cases and old furniture. Once the Supreme Court reviews and finalizes the report, furniture and equipment will be procured and deployed to all first level courts in ARMM to address identified needs.
To learn more about our work in the Philippines, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at <[email protected]>.