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MANILA, Philippines – With nearly 20,000 people arrested since the start of the coronavirus lockdown, the government’s justice cluster is urged to issue a joint order that would spare light offenders from arrest.
“The Chief Justice can maybe talk to the Secretary of Justice and the Secretary of the Interior and Local Government and say look can we coordinate our efforts here, we don’t want to add more cases, more issues than we have to because we want the very serious crimes of course to be prosecuted, people to be punished, but not for the petty and minor crimes,” said former Supreme Court spokesperson Ted Te in a Rappler Talk interview.
The Justice Sector Coordinating Council (JSCC) is composed of the Supreme Court (SC), the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). The council’s latest banner project are justice zones which streamline coordination channels aimed at addressing congestion of courts and jails.
While courts are passive bodies, Te said it is part of the Supreme Court’s administrative role to institute processes and policies and “weed out cases that (they) don’t really need to decide.”
Te said for example, those who violate curfews and are not disorderly and especially those who have essential tasks, can just be sent or brought home without having to detain him and subject them to inquest.
If there are top orders from the 3 heads of these bodies – meaning Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año – then Te said the police would be confident not to arrest.
The same goes with the prosecutors if ever the case reaches their level. (READ: DOJ sticks to arrest policy, but rolls out electronic inquest)
Don’t overburden dockets
“If it comes from the top, then the prosecutors below will feel more confident and say that I know if I don’t file this case, the guys at the top are going to back me up, because these are the guidelines here,” said Te.
“Shouldn’t there be a policy to say in that situation, that the police should not be looking at that person as a law and order problem but looking at that person as someone… and I hate to use the word, entitled to compassion?” said Te.
Te said the prosecutorial and court dockets are too clogged anyway to be receiving more cases in a lockdown where the offices have been physically closed.
“Otherwise we will have a situation where the more we lock people up, we’re creating newer problems that we don’t really need actually,” said Te.
Asked if he thinks the justice cluster has that much of an influence to convince Malacañang to also change their policy, Te said: “My short answer based on a reality check is no.”
“But of course I’m hopeful because the justice sector must realize that they have an important role to play here, at the end of the day after the virus is gone we have to pick ourselves up, that’s where the justice sector now comes in,” said Te.
“Ilang libong kaso ang madadagdag na kasong haharapin ng mga prosecutor natin? Ilan yun, you are already overworking an overcongested court,” added Te.
(How many thousands of cases will be added for our prosecutors to face? You are already overworking an overcongested court.)
A balancing act
Te said it’s hard to say that there should be a balancing act between upholding human rights and strictly enforcing quarantine.
“When you’re talking about a balance, you’re presuming that things are equal, that everything is of the same weight, of the same level, of the same quality….There are people who are jobless, that’s on one end, on the other end is social distancing, you want to make sure the curve is flattened, are those two equal?” said Te.
It becomes more difficult, said Te, if the police are given the task to break the equation.
Te said there needs to be more evidence-based policies before policing kicks in.
“What is the effect of 3 million people staying away from the streets for how many days, people are asking for that, wala, ang naririnig kasi aarestuhin kayo (there’s been none of that, all they hear is you will be arrested.)” said Te.
“We’ve looked at this problem primarily from a security, law and order perspective, we looked at it from a health perspective, the last perspective that has not really gotten a lot of attention is the justice perspective,” said Te. – Rappler.com