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Current Rule of Law Programs in the Philippines

Judicial Reform

Building upon a decade-long cooperation with local partners to modernize the country’s judicial system, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) currently implements the Judicial Strengthening to Build Court Effectiveness (JUSTICE) program in the Philippines. The five-year, multi-million dollar JUSTICE program is part of a U.S. and Philippine governments’ initiative to improve the investment climate and spur economic development in the Philippines—the Partnership for Growth initiative.

The JUSTICE program combats court ineffectiveness, which a team of U.S. and Philippine government officials identified as one of the key constraints to growth in the Philippines. ABA ROLI, in close collaboration with local partners, such as the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice, the Office of Government Corporate Counsel and the Intellectual Property Office, is implementing targeted interventions to make the Philippine justice system more responsive, reliable and efficient. ABA ROLI harnesses high level political will and leadership for support in four main areas:

  • Improving judicial efficiency through court automation
  • Strengthening contract enforcement and alternative dispute resolution
  • Protecting intellectual property rights
  • Enhancing judicial integrity by increasing transparency

Improving judicial efficiency through court automation

Philippine courts are burdened with lengthy backlogs, making use of the justice system ineffective and unappealing for citizens. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Philippines government have identified docket congestion and delay as the most significant barriers to the timely delivery of justice. To address the core causes of congestion and delay, ABA ROLI is working with local partners and judicial actors to reform inefficient business processes and court rules. We also provide much-needed resources to ill-equipped courts and under-trained clerical and judicial staff. ABA ROLI’s program builds upon the success of its past USAID-sponsored judicial reform programs, which date back to 2003, and targets areas directly related to economic and commercial disputes.

Since 2008, ABA ROLI’s technology-driven, results-oriented approach has led to the creation of an automated case management information system (CMIS) at the Court of Appeals (CA) and the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA). Following the success of the CMIS system, ABA ROLI automated the Quezon City trial courts, which are among the busiest court systems in the country, as a pilot effort for a national court-automation program that would replace time-consuming manual record-keeping and case management practices.

Additionally, ABA ROLI is working to develop and install an automated case management system, the e-Court, in selected courts in major economic areas of the Philippines. ABA ROLI will also enhance automation at the Court of Appeals, the Court of Tax Appeals and the Sandiganbayan (the anti-corruption court) through additional features designed to improve case management, increase efficiency and reduce court delay. To support these systems and ensure sustainability, the JUSTICE program will build the capacity of the Court Management Office and judicial supervisors to utilize the national e-Court program.

Further, ABA ROLI—building on its successful previous initiative to establish small claims courts—is helping the Philippine judiciary explore and implement reforms to rules of procedure to increase courts’ efficiency and accessibility. Under the JUSTICE program, ABA ROLI will conduct an information campaign to highlight the availability of small claims courts and will help the judiciary determine whether to expand these courts’ jurisdiction. ABA ROLI is also assessing Quezon City’s pilot speedy-litigation rules for possible amendments and nationwide implementation. Additionally, ABA ROLI is partnering with The Asia Foundation on a one-time docket decongestion effort in select courts with exceptionally high caseloads.

Strengthening contract enforcement and alternative dispute resolution

To create a more open and competitive business environment, ABA ROLI is working with the Philippine judiciary to increase timeliness and consistency in the adjudication of contract disputes and the predictability of outcomes. Working with an array of local partners, ABA ROLI is striving to enhance the quality and increase the use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) while strengthening contract adjudication in insolvency cases, facilitating use of small claims courts and building the capacity of the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC)—the entity that serves as counsel to nearly 800 government owned and controlled corporations. ABA ROLI is partnering with the Department of Justice’s Office of Alternative Dispute Resolution, the OGCC, the judiciary and the Philippine Judicial Academy (PhilJA) to encourage the use of ADR mechanisms as an alternative to traditional court proceedings in contract cases. Capitalizing on the high awareness of ADR in the Philippines, ABA ROLI is supporting the implementation of President Aquino’s 2012 executive order requiring the use of ADR in several types of cases between the government and private entities. To help raise private businesses’ confidence that their ADR agreements will be upheld in Philippine courts, ABA ROLI is working with PhilJA to train trial court judges on their obligations to respect arbitration clauses and domestic and international arbitral awards, and is conducting an orientation program for Court of Tax Appeals’ justices and officials from other agencies. ABA ROLI and USAID are also training OGCC attorneys on ADR.

Protecting intellectual property rights

ABA ROLI is working with an array of stakeholders to help protect intellectual property rights (IPR) in the Philippines by supporting the implementation of recent laws and amendments, which give national jurisdiction to certain special commercial courts in Metro Manila. The amendments allow these courts to issue search and seizure orders for counterfeit goods, manufacturing equipment and related contraband anywhere in the country while retaining the jurisdiction of local trial courts to issue seizure orders within their jurisdictions. The new rules also limit the types of relief that defendants in IPR cases can request and shorten the litigation time for certain types of cases in IPR litigation. Through the JUSTICE program, ABA ROLI will continue to train judges on IPR laws.

ABA ROLI is also working with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and PhilJA to train officials from the Philippines Intellectual Property Office (IPOPHIL), the Bureau of Customs and other government agencies on enforcing the new IPR laws. In addition, ABA ROLI, IPOPHIL and USPTO will develop a standard operating procedures manual for judges, court employees and other relevant government agencies.

To further strengthen the fight against IPR violations—including across jurisdictions—ABA ROLI compiles regular reports from the recently implemented case management information system to share with IPOPHIL and other appropriate law enforcement agencies. The system also allows Court of Appeals division directors to receive an automatic notice when a trial court order to seize counterfeit goods or instrumentalities is appealed.

Enhancing judicial integrity by increasing transparency

ABA ROLI has helped automate Philippine courts, improving their record system and creating a more transparent, predictable, consistent and less corrupt justice sector in the country. ABA ROLI is working closely with the Supreme Court’s Public Information Office to publicize these reforms, which give the public greater access to information and allow court supervisors to ensure that cases are adequately addressed.

ABA ROLI will also work with The Asia Foundation to engage civil society organizations, law students, young lawyers, journalists and the public in general to add layers of public oversight into the judicial appointment and promotion processes. The approach, which draws in part from the foundation’s success with its Supreme Court Appointments Watch initiative and its work in Indonesia, will allow public access to more information about judges’ qualifications and possible conflicts of interest. Later, The Asia Foundation will conduct a series of public perception surveys of the judiciary to assess the efforts’ impact on the public’s confidence in the judiciary.

Access to Justice and Human Rights

Protecting the rights of persons with disabilities

With support from the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) works to increase access to justice for persons with disabilities (PWDs) by building both justice sector actors’ awareness of the rights of PWDs and their capacity to serve PWDs. ABA ROLI is educating PWDs as well as judges, lawyers and police on the rights of PWDs.

ABA ROLI is assisting a team of legal experts based at the University of the Philippines in producing a handbook on disability rights for lawyers, judges, court employees and the police. Copies of the handbook will be distributed nationwide, and the team will develop training curricula and facilitate nationwide trainings.

Additionally, ABA ROLI is working with a local partner to adapt key aspects of the handbook into a concise know-your-rights guide for PWDs. The guide will be published in different formats tailored to the needs of PWDs, particularly those with communication challenges. Its contents will also be made available in an online video.

Seeking justice for victims of extrajudicial killings

ABA ROLI, through its AusAID-funded program, works to reduce impunity for extra- judicial killings and forced disappearances in the Philippines. While most prosecutions currently rely on witness testimony, the program is designed to enhance prosecutors’ skills in analyzing forensic evidence and using it in court and to strengthen public attorneys’ capacity to advocate for victims, witnesses and their relatives.

To build forensic skills, both in analysis and trial techniques, ABA ROLI cooperates with the University of Philippines to develop and publish a litigation handbook and a training curriculum on protecting and analyzing a crime scene as well as introducing forensic and physical evidence in court. The handbook and curriculum will then be used to train prosecutors, public attorneys and civil society representatives across the country. ABA ROLI and the University of Philippines’s law center will also conduct a moot court competition among Philippine law schools, with a particular focus on forensic evidence.

Further, ABA ROLI, in partnership with the Center for International Law, will help the Philippine Public Attorney’s Office fulfill its mandate to serve as an advocacy unit for victims of extra-judicial killings and their relatives through the development, publication and dissemination of an advocacy handbook. The handbook will detail the various legal and social services available to the victims’ relatives.