“It is not just an issue of poverty but also of the president’s intolerance of dissent.”
By ALYSSA MAE CLARIN
MANILA — “Is the legal and judicial system of the Philippines, broken?”
This was the question posed to lawyer-candidates vying for a senatorial seat in a town- hall meeting on April 12, 2019 at the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Building in Ortigas.
In his opening speech, Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajardo highlighted the importance of Senate as an institution that will ensure the so-called rule of law in the country.
Six lawyer-senatorial candidates were present during the town-hall meeting, namely: Neri Colmenares, Chel Diokno, Erin Tañada, Ernesto Arellano, Joan Sheelah Naliw, and Sonny Matula.
“(The theme question) is precisely the reason why I filed my certificate of candidacy,” said Diokno during the town-hall meeting.
Lawyers groups that organized the town-hall meeting were: National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Philippine Bar Association, and the Association of Law Students in the Philippines.
Among the issues discussed during the town-hall meeting were the need to improve the pace of cases being filed before courts and much-needed reforms in the legal education of future lawyers.
“Our kind of justice caters to those who have money,” said Arellano.
The six lawyer-senatorial aspirants believe that the judicial system in the country remains very much inaccessible to the poor, most especially when they are up against multi-national corporations.
Arellano related that there are workers still struggling for their separation pay about a decade since they were terminated by big companies.
Lawyers under threat
Colmenares, for his part, said the inaccessibility of the judicial process among poor Filipinos does not only relate to their dire conditions but also to the fact that many lawyers are under threat for fighting for their rights and welfare.
This happens, he said, most especially in drug-related cases and human rights violations.
An independent probe carried out by foreign lawyers last month revealed a pattern of state-sanctioned killings of their Filipino counterparts. The NUPL has documented at least 37 lawyers killed in relation to their profession.
“It is not just an issue of poverty but also of the president’s intolerance of dissent,” Colmennares said, adding that Philippine judicial system becomes compromised for fear of facing the president’s wrath.
Problems within the structure
During the forum, Diokno pointed out the need to employ more prosecutors and judges that are at par with private practice in order to provide more legal services to the people. This, he added, should be funded instead of what he considered as “useless” project.
“If we want the get the people’s trust back, then we (the judiciary) should have the capability,” he added.
Tañada, on the other hand, said that the “broken system” has always been weaponized by whoever is seating in Malacañang against those they perceive as enemies, adding “there has to be a recognition that something is broken, in order for us to fix it.”
Matula said it is possible to mend the broken justice system if the “determination to succeed is strong enough.”