PhilJury supporters marched alongside VACC at a recent pork barrel protest in the Philippines.
LONDON - A group of overseas Filipinos in England received special recognition for their community service in the Philippines, a decade after starting their crusade for justice.
Philippine Jury Campaign UK (PhilJury) received a Special Award for their Outstanding Contribution to Community Service, given by Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), a Manila-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) fighting against crime, corruption and injustices.
“We are very honoured, because our hard work is actually paying off. And it's not only that, the Philippine Jury Campaign is now recognised as a national figure,” said Amy Balliao from PhilJury.
The award was announced on August 20 in a ceremony held at the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), attended by activists, politicians and government staff.
“This is what we need to do: for people to be aware [of the campaign], not only the grassroots but also the politicians,” Balliao added.
Established in 2004, PhilJury has been lobbying for the introduction of trial-by-jury in the Philippines, arguing that this will help eliminate miscarriage of justice and corruption. The group also supports victims of crimes and injustices.
Under trial-by-jury, members of the public are called upon to serve in cases and collectively deliver a verdict based on details provided in court.
Jury trial is currently unavailable in the Philippine judicial system, where bench trials are more prevalent in which an appointed judge hears a case and delivers a verdict based on the evidence and arguments presented.
PhilJury continues its campaign to change this system, and is currently planning a National Convention in Manila in November, followed by an awareness tour in some parts of the country.
“We need educational campaigns at universities and barangays for them them to know what Philippine Jury is about and what we're campaigning for,” said Balliao.
“There are so many laws in the Philippines and our kababayans don't know what it's all about. So before we can go to Congress and ask them to install trial-by-jury, we need to educate our people to make sure they understand it.”
Run for a cause
Most recently, on August 30, PhilJury hosted a charity run at Willesden Sports Centre in London to gather funds for the campaign and raise awareness of social issues.
Dubbed as “Takbo Na: Run For A Cause,” Filipinos and British supporters ran 2.5 to 5 kilometres for a cause of their choice.
The event was inspired by campaign runners in the Philippines, particularly the running priest. Fr. Robert Reyes, and Filipino global runner Cesar Guarin, both of whom used running to raise awareness of sociopolitical issues.
“We want to make sure [Filipinos] participate in the administration of justice. Run for your country means that we must be aware of what's going on in our country right now, especially because the 2016 election is coming,” Balliao explained.
65 percent of proceeds from the event will go towards an organisation chosen by each runner, while 35 percent goes towards the work of PhilJury.
“I’m running on behalf of Philippine Jury Campaign because I want justice for the oppressed in the Philippines. So many people need justice even now and I’m running to say it’s time for a change,” said Edelyn Efren, one of the runners and a supporter of jury trials.
The introduction of trial-by-jury in the Philippines is a popular cause for Filipinos in the UK, where there are currently three different lobby groups dedicated to the same campaign.
However, there are also arguments against a jury system in the Philippines.
An online article by Atty Rita Linda Jimeno outlined some of the issues previously raised against trial-by-jury, which includes: the burden of related costs to the already meager budget of the Philippine courts; the perceived immaturity of the general Filipino masses when it comes to civic life; the additional time it will take to vet and process jury selection which can prolong cases even more; and the danger of emotional trials where lawyers prey on the jury’s sympathy.