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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Carvajal: Justice delayed

I CAN understand why mainstream news organizations must sell their media (print, radio, TV) with catching (slanted?) content. But that takes nothing from my disappointment at what they headlined as President Rodrigo Duterte’s threat of Martial Law with hardly a remark on what he said could be the reason for it, namely, the slow pace of justice in the country.

However, I reserve the bigger disappointment to Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. Her legal-procedural stand-up for alleged drug-linked judges was more the knee-jerk reaction of an agency head defending her turf and less the well-considered response of a high court official that sees the bigger picture.

The Chief Justice, of all people, should know that the spread of criminality is abetted not so much by the corruption of a few judges as by the slow pace by which courts deal out justice as President Duterte correctly inferred in his response to her letter.

This slowness (weeks to issue a warrant, indefinite postponements of court hearings, etc.) is the more fundamental problem of the country’s justice system. The corruption (of I’m sure only a few court personnel) is only an aggravation, albeit a major one, because it makes the wheels of justice roll even slower to the extreme prejudice of the poor victims of moneyed and well-connected criminals.

The more heads-up response would have been to tell the President that there is no need for Martial Law if the Supreme Court could be given a budget for more courts, more judges and more prosecutors, etc., so the backlog of cases can be immediately reduced and the adjudication of new ones speeded up. Instead of closing the book now that the President has apologized, she should leave no stone unturned in prodding Congress to consider this problem at its budget hearings that start on Aug. 22.

People beef about the lack of rehabilitation centers. But many of those needing rehab might have to be indicted first for some drug-related crimes. The need, therefore, for more courts and judges to hear drug and other criminal cases is as urgent as the need for more rehabilitation centers.

The line separating the legal from the illegal is not one drawn in the sand. It is a tight rope that President Duterte must walk. It’s a risky proposition to say the least and it would help if all agencies of government were to figure out how they can help the President do his balancing act.

For the Supreme Court this should mean speeding up the delivery of criminal justice. Drug trafficking, extrajudicial killings, etc. will not abate even with the death penalty if cases against moneyed and politically powerful criminals take forever for courts to adjudicate. Trite but true, justice delayed is justice denied.
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