[ANALYSIS] Philippines' dark secret: Lengthy pretrial detention

Lengthy pretrial detention is the little dark secret plaguing the Philippine legal system.

Judges, prosecutors and public and private lawyers know about it but no one is doing about it. For one, purposeful delay benefits the defense lawyers – they can still make a living through representational fees even if hearings are continually postponed. Judges are not bothered even if accused in their court sala had languished in jail for 10 years and counting.

The accused are powerless, anyway, and indeed, it is not their fault when prosecution and defense lawyers seek for postponements. The prosecutors are just as happy that the accused are languishing in jail, as long as they are not out in the streets and committing crimes. Thus, detained accused appears in court once every 3 months, only to be postponed due to the absence of one of the court actors, and that is okay.

The court actors will still get their paychecks, anyway. Indeed, for every 10 hearings, only two will push through, wasting scarce government resources. The court actors’ lack of coordination and culture of “professional courtesy” lead to these lengthy pretrial detention, and for them it is okay. They can still get promoted as long as they are close to the appointing authorities, anyway.

Challenge of innovation

There are few court actors, especially judges, who are trying to innovate and make their court systems efficient.

They implement more strict rules on postponements, computerize their court management systems, and develop a mechanism to coordinate calendaring of hearings. The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) can also help by regularly providing the courts with the list of overstaying inmates. The BJMP can actually determine who are the Speedy Courts and the Challenged Courts. The Supreme Court, through the Office of the Court Administrator, can also monitor the average length of stay of inmates in jail for each judge and use this as a basis for promotions and distribution of performance based bonuses.

If the lengthy pretrial process in the Philippines cannot be addressed, rule of law cannot be established. Thus, the President should embark on strengthening the judicial system by providing more judges, prosecutors and lawyers to lessen their caseload.

There should be court management trainings for judges so they can run their hearings efficiently. Furthermore, there should be ethical trainings for all lawyers, so that they do away with the practice of purposeful delay to maintain a steady income.

The speedy resolution of cases will restore trust to the judicial system. This will lead to Filipinos following the rule of law. This will entice them to stop using drugs as they will be swiftly punished using legitimate means if they do so.

This is more sustainable solution than killing drug addicts and corrupt politicians without due process of law. – Rappler.com


The author is assistant professor at the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Southern Illinois University Carbondale.