Angeles City becomes PH's fourth 'Justice Zone'

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 12 2019 09:07 PM | Updated as of Apr 17 2019 07:53 AM

ANGELES CITY, PAMPANGA – Top officials of the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) on Friday launched Angeles City as a “justice zone,” an area with better coordination among justice sector agencies for faster delivery of justice.

Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año spearheaded the launch, along with several European ambassadors led by European Union Ambassador to the Philippines Franz Jessen. The EU is supporting the initiative through its Governance in Justice Programme (GOJUST Programme).

They were joined by Angeles City Mayor Edgardo Pamintuan and Angeles Regional Trial Court Executive Judge Omar Viola, who serves as chair of the local Justice Sector Coordinating Council (JSCC).

Under the program, local justice sector agencies such as the police, prosecutors, judges, public attorneys, and managers of detention facilities “identify problems and arrive at common solutions to address them.”

This is hoped to speed up proceedings across these agencies. 

The idea, according to GOJUST Program Team Leader Christian Eldon, arises from the recognition that while members of the justice sector are independent, they are also interdependent and rely on each other, thus, the need for greater coordination.

Echoing these sentiments, Guevarra said members of the justice sector should “gain insights into the operational and logistical challenges” each of them face.

“These insights become the basis for us to address gaps and weaknesses in our respective systems, which in turn embolden us to further strengthen our bonds of cooperation and collaboration,” he said.

Guevarra cited as an example the sheer volume of cases being handled by prosecutors and public attorneys in Angeles City.

He said the city’s 10 prosecutors were handling 1,600 complaints under preliminary investigation and almost 1,300 inquest proceedings as of October 2018 aside from around 3,200 criminal cases pending in court as of September 2018. This means each prosecutor was handling around 600 cases.

Meanwhile, the city’s 13 public attorneys had a caseload of over 5,200 cases or around 400 cases each.

While the justice department has already hired and trained prosecutors and public defenders, these efforts must be complemented by reforms in other justice sectors, Guevarra said. 

“A judge, no matter how learned, cannot convict without a capable prosecutor. A prosecutor, no matter how capable, if of no use in the absence of evidence gathered and competently handled by law enforcers. The realization of our interdependent work has forced us to look beyond the narrow confines of our own offices and departments,” he explained.

The JSCC program started in 2014 with Quezon City designated as the first justice zone, followed by Cebu City in 2018 and Davao City in March this year. Angeles is the fourth.

Bersamin acknowledged successes under the JSCC program, citing as examples continuous trial and automation such as the e-court system, electronic subpoena, and the e-dalaw or electronic visitation program.

According to the JSCC, the introduction of a continuous trial system and plea bargaining for drugs cases in Quezon City resulted in the reduction of up to 70,000 pending civil and criminal cases, from 640,000 as of December 2017 to 570,000 as of December 2016.

He said the 3 agencies are working on a sectoral budget for joint projects between the high court, the DOJ and DILG. He vowed to launch more justice zones before he retires in October.

“In the coming months, titingnan din namin 'yung mga (we will look at) rural or provincial areas. Because most of these justice zones so far, 'yung apat (the four), all of them, sa mga matataong lugar (are in densely populated areas) and they are in the urban setting. I am hoping that the principals will also consider launching and establishing justice zones in the provincial scale,” he said.

Año, for his part, said he hoped the barangay’s capability to resolve conflict will also be strengthened to ensure village residents “will experience fair and speedy administration of justice.”

Jessen, the EU envoy, said they are “very impressed with what the program has achieved so far.”

During the event, the JSCC and the local Angeles Justice Zone also unveiled their taglines and logos. JSCC chose the tagline “Bayanihan para sa Katarungan” (Cooperation Towards Justice) while the Angeles City Justice Zone adopted the Kapampangan phrase “Abe-abe ban matibe” (Stronger Together).