How SC is fast-tracking Ampatuan massacre trial

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 26 2015 07:33 PM | Updated as of Mar 27 2015 03:33 AM

MANILA - Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno gave her assurances that the judiciary is fast-tracking the Maguindanao massacre trial.

Speaking at business forum in Makati City, Sereno recalled that the Oscar Pistorious trial took a year with just one respondent while the Maguindanao massacre case has 272 accused, 87 arraigned, 57 petitions for bail and about 400 motions.

Sereno said the presiding judge has been relieved of all other responsibilities for this case, with trial being held for three days a week.

Three assistant judges have been assigned, one to rule on other incidents not of substance and two judges to help with other caseloads.

The Chief Justice said the Constitution guarantees due process but she hopes that to address the image of impunity, the extraordinary measures taken by the judiciary must be emphasized.

She insisted that the trial is being expedited at maximum and they will expedite if there is any other further way to do so.

Sereno recalled that the trial judge has also been allowed to convict some of the accused ahead of the others, and need not wait for the rulings of higher courts should there be petitions regarding the case in those courts.

"I can do nothing more," she said.

Court congestion was one of the topics in the business forum she attended. Other topics she touched upon were institutionalized integrity and increased public credibility, rationality, predictability, speed and responsiveness of judicial actions, improved systems, procedures and infrastructures and efficient human resources in the judiciary.

Sereno said the court is also studying the urgent need to settle issues of jurisdiction to reduce or eliminate confusion on which action can be filed which court.

They also want to slow down the unrelenting increase of filings. They are also studying the basis for the impression of flip-flopping court decisions.

90-DAY TRIALS

As of December 2012, there are 600,000 cases pending in first and second level courts.

Sereno said they want to reduce this by 30 percent in five years. This means no judge will have more than 300 cases in his or her docket. Right now, some courts have 30 cases while others have as high as 4,000 cases.

Sereno said the cost of decongesting a single court with more than 500 cases is P560,000 a year. To expedite the service of processes, they allow the use of private couriers in Quezon City.

In order to continue private courier the judiciary needs P1.3 million a year for 33 courts in QC or around P36,000 for each of 33 congested courts.

The court plans to implement the e-raffling of cases as well as a continuous trial system that will reduce trial time from 3-5 years to 90 days.

They also plan to construct the Manila Hall of Justice, as well as the Court of Appeals for Cebu and Cagayan de Oro.

Sereno noted that after they declared as unconstitutional the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) and parts of the disbursement acceleration program (DAP), it is imperative for the judiciary to build its own infrastructure.

The Chief Justice said it will take years to reconstruct court records in Tacloban and Cagayan de Oro, which have been affected by disasters.

She said she has directed their public information office to disseminate news of disciplinary actions undertaken by court to discipline erring judges, lawyers, notaries and court personnel to create a chilling effect on wrongdoing.

Last year, the Supreme Court dismissed a Sandiganbayan magistrate.

From 2012 to September 2014, the SC sanctioned 115 judges and 177 lawyers.

The names of erring judges and lawyers will be posted online.

Other items that will be made available online are judicial decisions, annual reports, financial reports to the Commission on Audit including the judiciary development fund (JDF), announcements of invitations to bid, awards of procurement contracts among others.

In the future, summaries of the statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) of members of the judiciary will also be posted online.