THE community is an important pillar in justice.”

Justice Gabriel Ingles, presiding justice of the Court of Appeals of Cebu, stressed communal stakeholdership to journalists, academe, and civil society organizations (CSOs) during the Media Training on Monitoring the Judiciary, which was held on Feb. 24 at the University of San Carlos in Cebu.

The training on “Uncovering the Courts” was part of a series of grassroots trainings conducted around the country under the Hustisya Natin, a project that seeks to “empower civil society participation in monitoring judicial and quasi-judicial bodies towards enhanced integrity of the justice system.”

Justice Ingles informed the participants, who came from various cities in Central Visayas, about the importance of upholding human rights in the Philippine criminal justice system. For instance, until a criminal case is filed in court, the subject of a complaint is still a respondent, not the accused.

The distinction of terms is not just a matter of jargon. Justice Ingles pointed out the social responsibility of journalists covering the courts, teachers training future journalists, and CSOs working with vulnerable sectors.

The first part of the Hustisya Natin project is capacity-building of stakeholders. As frontliners in informing and educating citizens, journalists are encouraged to provide depth and context in their coverage of the courts by translating the complexity of the justice system into terms that relate to citizens.

A key information that needs incorporation in many articles are the rights of a person under custody and under arrest, pointed out Justice Ingles. However, injecting proper legal procedure in coverage is also challenged by changes in the media industry that has diminished the news hole to respond to shortened audience attention and scanning habits that have replaced traditional linear reading.

“Read” is also the succinct advice of lawyer Theodore O. Te to reporters and editors. The assistant court administrator and chief of the SC public information office related the public’s right to information and access to official records and documents in his talk on “The Paper Trail.”

Te underscored the need for media to hone basic competencies, beginning with reading, comprehending and relating accurately court decisions.

The importance of journalistic competency was echoed by lawyer Pachico A. Seares, public and standards editor of SunStar Cebu and SunStar Superbalita (Cebu), during the open forum for the afternoon critique of coverage of courts, “More Light than Heat?,” which featured Executive Judge Gilbert Moises of the Cebu Regional Trial Court.

Seares, the executive director of the Cebu Citizens-Press Council, and other journalists, teachers, and CSO representatives gave their perspectives on information gaps in court reportage, the need for clarity in writing, simplification of legal jargon, and responses to the challenges posed by new media’s ascendancy, the marginalization of journalism by other communication careers, and lack of academic preparation for undergraduates to cover the justice system.

A more nuanced coverage of the courts was provided by lawyer Zenaida N. Elepaño of the Legal Education Board, who illustrated with case histories the 2007 Code of Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary. Vincent T. Lazatin, executive director of the Transparency and Accountability Network, explained the importance of monitoring judicial appointments.

Hustisya Natin’s public literacy campaign aims to enhance the capacity of citizens to monitor and take part in judicial reform efforts, pointed out Marites Dañguilan-Vitug, president of the Journalism for Nation-Building Foundation (JNBF), and lawyer Marlon Manuel, chair of the project steering committee of Hustisya Natin.

In these challenging times, sharing the stake in the justice system to bring back integrity, transparency and accountability may be what’s needed to counter the tides of anarchy and dictatorship.