SENATE President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said that manpower and material lack in the judiciary and in the Department of Justice should be addressed in order to bolster the rule of law.
The rule of law, Recto said, is now being threatened by people and institutions tempted to embrace illegal means in seeking justice.
Recto said a program to modernize the courts and equip public attorneys and prosecutors with the resources that will reduce case backlogs will move the wheels of justice quickly, fight crime and keep communities safe.
Recto said the fast disposition of cases will also prevent congested jails from turning "into corporate headquarters of crime syndicates and as masteral schools for their members."
And because it now costs taxpayers about P82,000 to house, feed, and guard one inmate a year, a higher case resolution rate will result in huge savings which can be spent for social services, he pointed out.
He cited the backbreaking caseloads of Justice Department prosecutors and public attorneys "as the best arguments on why their offices should be given a budgetary raise."
"One prosecutor handles about 403 criminal cases. He or she attends to three court hearings a day, in addition to preliminary investigations, retrials, witness deposition, mediation, among others," he said.
A public attorney, on the other hand, assists some 5,237 clients a year, and, at any given time, has 504 cases in court.
"All of them lack computers, paralegals, law books and comfortable offices. Most use their own computers and often use their own money to reproduce the briefs they have prepared," Recto said.
While there are 1,657 vacant prosecutorial posts, and the present number of 1,668 PAO lawyers is below the authorized ceiling, “there are no takers because of the low pay for the hard labor, and the only bonus one gets are ‘unli’ death threats.”
Courts are not faring well either in their running battle against lack of resources, Recto said.
“Courts literally grapple with mountains of paperwork. Far from being magisterial, many courthouses now have the look and smell of an old bodega de papel,” he lamented.
Aggravating this is the lack of equipment in salas, Recto said. “Data processing, storage, and retrieval systems are outdated. Support personnel is lacking as well.”
He said that based on the data released last year, only 373 of the 479 Municipal Circuit Trial Courts were functioning; of the 253 Municipal Trial Courts in Cities, 201 were operational; of the 367 Municipal Trial Courts, 289 were occupied; and of the 1,229 Regional Trial Courts, 166 were vacant and 204 have yet to be organized.
Recto said equipment and building lack in both the judiciary and the DOJ is addressed in the 2018 budget, “but the proposed allocations are not enough.”
“There are many sectors competing for scarce government resources. There are needs like medicine, books, crimefighting equipment, which, in the belief of many, have to be attended to first,” he said.
Of the judicial branch’s proposed P33.7 billion budget for next year, P2.85 billion is for capital outlay, which is the government budgeting term for new buildings and equipment.
And of the DOJ’s proposed P17.2 billion 2018 budget, P260 million is for capital outlay. (SunStar Philippines)