Since 2001, the Philippine Supreme Court has been aggressively pushing for reforms to ensure fair and speedy delivery of justice. It has introduced improved court management tools; simplified and streamlined court procedures; and encouraged alternative dispute resolution, mediation and integrity-enhancing projects. Yet, the Philippine judiciary still struggles with the perennial problem of case congestion and court delay, resulting from budgetary and human resources constraints, as well as outdated procedural rules and equipment. Lack of inter-agency coordination and leniency in granting continuance requests further deepen the problem.
To address this growing concern, the Supreme Court, in collaboration with the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and the U.S. Agency for International Development, embarked on a pilot modernization and process management project in Quezon City. With more than 40,000 cases pending in its first- and second-level courts, the city has the highest caseload in Metro Manila. A January 12 event marking the launch of the project brought together representatives from the bar, the judiciary, and the prosecutor's and the public defender's offices to gauge their reaction to different rule modifications. The project streamlines procedures—enforcing strict time limitations from arraignment to the trial period of civil and criminal cases—in the participating courts.
During his opening remarks, Court Administrator Midas Marquez lauded stakeholders and partners for their dedication and cooperation. “This reform initiative simply proves that public officials from different branches of government can link hands to improve the delivery of justice,” he said. Marquez also thanked ABA ROLI for its "unwavering commitment” in making a difference in every Filipino’s life.
Stakeholders said common challenges in the adjudication of cases included delays in serving court notices and orders by mail, non-compliance with the time limitations imposed by existing court rules, disinterested litigants’ failure to appear in court and lack of sanctions against them, repeated motions for extensions and postponements, and leniency on continuances.
Feedback gathered through an interactive survey showed that stakeholders want to see strict enforcement of the 60-day time limit for preliminary investigations, continuance of pre-trial proceedings despite the absence of duly notified parties and prompt filing and resolution of all pre-trial motions. Event attendees also said that available out-of-court remedies, such as mediation and arbitration under the local government, should be exhaustively pursued to ease caseload in courts and to make the justice system more effective and efficient.
Judge Maria Gilda Loja-Pangilinan emphasized the importance of inter-agency coordination. “A project of this significance calls for participation of all actors in litigation,” she said, adding that alternatives, including mediation, small claims procedure and judicial dispute resolution, play a positive role in reducing backlog.
In the coming months, inputs solicited from various stakeholders will be incorporated into guidelines for the implementation of the pilot project. Pilot courts will also be monitored to assess the impact of the newly introduced changes.
To learn more about our work in the Philippines, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at <[email protected]>.