Sereno wants more funds for faster case disposal

Buena Bernal
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is straightforward in expressing her dismay over the judiciary's limited share in the budget pie. 'I am not content with what they gave us,' she says.
MEET UP. Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno listens intently to questions from the press. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Amid ongoing budget deliberations in Congress, Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno made an indirect appeal for greater funding to enable the judiciary to implement what she called a “game-changer” in the case disposal rates of trial courts.

Sereno told the media in a rare meet-up on Thursday, August 28, that a continuous trial system is set to be launched in September.

“This is something that will be quite revolutionary for everyone, and I hope that this will impress on people the fact that to bring this about requires a lot of resource contribution not only from the judges and the participants themselves, but the national government,” Sereno told a panel consisting mostly of journalists who were able to quiz her on her plans for the judiciary.

Sereno described the system as “a process where the public sees that continuous trials will be conducted by the courts and will be the norm.” 

“If we are going to make this alive, then the national government must give us the support for this to come about,” she added.

The judiciary’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 is P20.28 billion, 5% higher than the previous year but 30% less than what the SC asked for. The 5% is said to cover only the inflation over the year.

Sereno was straightforward in expressing her dismay over the judiciary’s share in the budget pie. “I am not content with what they gave us,” she said.

“The national budget is terribly imbalanced against us. We don’t have the balance of power in our favor,” she lamented further.

Judicial reform

The lady chief justice said 25 volunteer courts in Manila, Makati and Quezon City will dry-run the continuous trial system starting September.

If successful, it will be replicated throughout the country in the long run. 

If the system gets enough financial support from government and various other sources, Sereno said she expects 100 courts to be applying the system by 2015, and 500 by 2016.

Sereno likewise said the judiciary is ushering in a period of e-filing.

“If we have this proactive approach to court litigation, that can only mean that we are actively seeking the use of electronic platforms,” she explained, adding that the electronic filing of pleadings in court creates multiple benefits including minimizing carbon footprint and generating less traffic.

She said it is the judiciary’s “commitment to serve the public in any way we can.”

No funding for e-court system

Sereno likewise tagged as a “problem” the executve department’s deletion from the judiciary’s proposed budget a requested allocation for electronic court (e-court) support.

These paperless transactions in court was first introduced in 2013 by Sereno. Called e-court, the computer-based system uses streamlined case workflows.

Sereno said there are now 61 fully operational pilot e-courts a year since they were first introduced. 

Sereno said she envisions 273 e-courts by the end of 2015. These e-courts are responsible for 25% of the total case load nationwide, she added.

“If we can have the resources from the national government, we can add to these figures,” she said. 

Benefits unrealized

The head of the High Court enumerated a long list of benefits from an e-court, including lessening the likelihood for human error in court reports, greater transparency, and better prioritization by judges.

Without the e-court system, the clerk of court goes through case records manually one by one.

Explaining the system, Sereno said: “Now, as long as the incidents are entered on a daily basis in the system, reports are already generated automatically. This will do away with a period of one month which is the total amount it takes to manually inventory the cases. So we save one month of productive time.”

The e-court likewise contains a dashboard of pending cases and shows the number of remaining detained prisoners in relation to the cases pending in court. With this, Sereno said, a judge’s priorities will be clear.

The system is likewise less prone to corruption, Sereno said, as it contains judicial templates including tickboxes for elements of specific crimes. But Sereno added all these benefits depend on funding to be allocated to the judiciary.

Sereno highlighted the importance of the justice system, which she says, provides avenues for the poor and the dispossessed to have their rights vindicated and their freedoms assured.

“To invest in the judiciary is not a losing proposition. It can never be a losing proposition. Any money invested in justice, in making the system work, in bringing about judicial reform is an investment in Filipino lives,” Sereno urged.

“It is as important as the other priorities that have already been identified by government. And if I may be allowed to say, even more important than some of them,” she added. –