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‘Justice delayed… denied’

“Video conferencing amid the pandemic is a sound idea.

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The gravamen of the decades-long social unrest in Morolandia is injustice. Moro history is replete with these narratives. It is injustice that sparked the call for secession, which has now metamorphosed into autonomous movements. Injustice comes in many forms. It comes when the wheels of justice pace excruciatingly slow.

Thus, the hackneyed truism: “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Family feud or rido is a main component of the complex web of violence in Muslim Mindanao.

This is commonly attributed to lack, weak or dysfunctional justice system. When state mechanisms fail to enforce or protect citizens’ rights, they resort to “self-help,” taking the law in their hands.

The pandemic has contributed largely to the delay in the administration of justice. It caused near paralysis in the process. Face-to-face hearings and trials are avoided lest they lead to the transmission of the virus.

The Supreme Court has not been wanting in addressing this concern. Following science-based and state-imposed protocol, it has issued an order directing the conduct of “Fully Remote Videoconferencing Hearings.” How this could be observed in jurisdictions with peculiar endemic problems related to the process posed a challenge to the actors in the administration of justice.

Apropos of this dilemma, the president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Lanao del Sur Chapter, lawyer Dagoroan Aguam Macarambon, in coordination with Executive Judge Bae Wenida Papandayan (still under the weather and struggling with her Internet signal), took the initiative to invite participants in the administration of justice to a Zoom meeting-dialogue last weekend.

Judge Arassad Macumbal, a computer-savvy magistrate, facilitated the virtual meeting.

The main agenda was to address the instruction of the Supreme Court and explore ways to comply with it.

The participants were judges of First, Second Level and Sharia Courts, prosecutors (regional, provincial and city), Public Attorney’s Office, officials of the Philippine National Police and Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) and law practitioners.

It was not a complicated problem. Easily, they identified the culprit that stymies compliance of the directive, i.e., lack, fragile and sporadic Internet connection, a necessary element in the process ordained by the High Tribunal.

This is a problem made worse by the Marawi war with the destruction of infrastructure. There appears no immediate quick-fix solution.

IBP president Macarambon distilled in capsule form the discussion in his post on the IBP chat room, thus: (a) While there is no reliable Internet connection in courts, there are possible proximate areas with Internet connection where courts can hold sessions.

A major concern though is safeguarding the integrity of court records, which have to follow the court; (b) The BJMP whose jail was transferred to Malabang, nearly 100 kilometers away from the capital Marawi City after its destruction in the siege, assured it can bring the persons deprived of liberty to a nearby military camp where there is strong Internet signal for the virtual hearing; (c) Despite problems of Internet connection, courts will struggle to continue the hearing of cases; (d) IBP will seek the assistance of the local government units in requesting the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) to fast-track the installation of Internet infrastructure in the area; (e) The IBP Board of Directors to pass a resolution calling on DICT to act with dispatch on the request; and Executive Judge Papandayan to conduct a pilot test on the feasibility of a videoconferencing hearing.
Under these circumstances, the local courts should not be faulted for expected delays in resolving cases.

The Supreme Court and the Office of the Court Administrator should be more liberal in passing judgment on the performance of judges with such problem peculiar in Marawi City and the province. What counts most perhaps in judging them is their dedication to render fair justice to every man.

Videoconferencing amid the pandemic is a sound idea. It should be observed in jurisdictions without problem of power outages and fragile Internet infrastructures.

The moral of the narrative is that the Supreme Court can pull all strings and design all the best measures and strategy to expedite the resolution of cases and unclog court dockets, but its success oftentimes depends largely on forces outside its realm. There’s Murphy’s law, for instance which divines fate.

Email: amb_mac_lanto
@yahoo.com

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