FOR the recent Bar Exams passers and their families, the euphoria will take time to settle. The singular culmination of four years or more of grueling studies and sacrifice cannot be fully captured by the passer’s percent average.
Nor by the collective milestones. Officials hail the 2016 Bar Exams’ passing rate of 59.06 percent as the “highest passing percentage” since 1946.
Schools in the provinces, particularly the University of San Carlos in Cebu and the Silliman University in Dumaguete, dominated the list of topnotchers, edging out the Metro Manila universities, long regarded as the elites in topping the Exams.
Yet, beyond the personal accolades and academic jubilation, one has to ask if these milestones will stir ripples in the sluggish flow of justice in the country.
“Slow as a turtle” is arguably the kindest way to describe the Philippine justice system.
According to a paper by J. Martin S. Villarama, Jr. uploaded on ca.judiciary.gov.ph, the “culture of delay” afflicting the judiciary has been the focus of institutional reforms to “improve case flow, achieve zero backlog in the higher courts, promote alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods by institutionalizing mediation and computerizing the internal processes of the judiciary and making them more transparent.”
Because while the mental image associating the glacial pace of the Philippine courts with the exertions of a turtle or a snail may be humorous, no litigant is laughing when hit by court delays, protracted disputes, and case-fixing.
The denial of the speedy disposition of cases in all judicial bodies does not just unnecessarily tax the resources and peace of mind of citizens.
It erodes the confidence people have for the rule of law, a belief crucial for the functioning of democracy.
The “culture of delay” feeds the corruption that grips not just the judiciary but the entire government system. It worsens the abuse of human rights carried out by the system itself and the shadow elements manifested in “street justice” and extrajudicial killings.
The “culture of delay” is one stream in the tributary feeding the “culture of impunity” that threatens to overwhelm society at present.
Many citizens are not just indifferent to but even articulate approval for the “cardboard justice” meted out to those who are shot down on the streets, their execution explained in a piece of cardboard left beside the body as punishment exacted for the victim’s so-called involvement in drugs.
One needs to look no farther from the country’s clogged jails. The War on Drugs has led to more arrests, with the country’s jails estimated to have exceeded their maximum capacity by 507 percent in October 2016, according to the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
Suffering the brunt of slow justice and social injustice are the poor.
The Free Legal Assistance Group (Flag) pointed out in December 2016 that 73 percent of capital offenders earned below P10,000 monthly and 74 percent of persons arrested without warrants were not assisted by legal counsels during investigation.
So what difference can the country’s 3,737 new lawyers make in the country’s dilemma?
Vacancies in the courts lead to the backlog of cases. Flag data showed that in December 2016, the National Prosecution Service had a 58-percent vacancy rate, necessitating the hiring of at least 500 prosecutors nationwide. Beyond the acquisition of necessary legal experience and training, a lawyer contributes his integrity and idealism to improve the system.
Whether in government or with non-government organizations advocating for judicial reform, lawyers can lead in empowering stakeholders: from investigators, who need training to enhance skills in gathering evidence, to citizens and journalists, who need assistance in improving the monitoring of and reporting on judicial lapses and excesses.
The country’s new lawyers must share the stake in making the system grant “justice for all.”