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August 01, 2011

US Ambassador Harry Thomas Visits a Local Small Claims Court

 August 2011 

On June 9, United States Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas, accompanied by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission Director Gloria Steele, visited the Hall of Justice in Iloilo City and met with local judges, who explained how small claims cases are handled.

Maria Filomena Singh, a regional trial court judge and spokesperson of the working group on small claims courts, briefly discussed the small claims rules of procedure. She said that the more efficient small claims courts help unclog court dockets, 60 to 70% of which are small claims cases. The city of Iloilo has 10 first level courts handling both criminal and civil cases not exceeding 6-year imprisonment and 7,000 U.S. dollars in damages or claims. Since the implementation of the new procedure on small money claims of up to 2,000 U.S. dollars, 96% of the 889 cases filed have already been resolved.

Singh said that the speedy case processing and decision making can be attributed to the new rule’s features, such as the provision for mediation, one day hearing and judgment, and a general rule that prohibits postponements. Additionally, the decisions of the small claims courts are final, the only basis for appeal to the Supreme Court being gross abuse of discretion.

The small claims procedure has had a positive impact on the provision of justice as it has allowed the courts to allot more time and resources to more complicated cases. Judge Ma. Theresa E. Gaspar said that without the small claims procedure the small claims cases “would have been clogged in the regular procedure, which takes years before a judgment is rendered.”

Judge Marciana Deguma said that the litigants are very satisfied with the procedure. “We facilitate better payment schemes through lowering interest rates and installment payments,” she added.

Singh said that these payment terms ensure access to justice for the poor and revenue for the government. “Bad debts in banks are written off and taxes are collected for the government,” she said. “Individuals get back to the formal financial system and gain good credit standing.”

Thomas said that the rule of law and good governance are important and directly linked to economic growth. He applauded the Supreme Court’s and the judiciary’s efforts to alleviate court backlog and the ABA Rule of Law Initiative’s (ABA ROLI’s) support of those efforts. Scott Ciment, ABA ROLI country director in the Philippines, discussed best small-claims practices from the U.S. and other jurisdictions.

Launched in 2008, the small claims courts program is a collaborative initiative of the Philippine Supreme Court, ABA ROLI and USAID. The Supreme Court is currently reviewing the rule to increase the highest claims that the small claims courts would handle up to 7,000 U.S. dollars.

To learn more about our work in the Philippines, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected]