Questions for CJ Sereno

In one of her elucidating speeches, CJ Ma. Lourdes Sereno said: “Justice is not something that is precisely defined in the Constitution. It is something that must be felt, something that must be experienced by the people.” Speaking of “experiencing justice,” I think I will send her this letter I received last Tuesday from Mr.  Isaac Obiso who says he is not a lawyer, but has attended several court hearings:

“Regarding your column (24/1/17), we would like you to consider our observations on court litigations and maybe make the proper proposal to CJS. We believe lengthy court hearings, which run for some long years in the Trial Courts, can be shortened by the very initiative of CJ Sereno, or by  the Supreme Court en banc.

“We observed that during the opening of trial courts, an officer of the court calls out the cases to be heard during the day. As a case is called the lawyers alternately rise and state: ‘For the prosecution, your Honor, we are ready; for the accused, your Honor, we are ready.’”

“After propounding two or three questions on a witness, one of the lawyers stands up to make his manifestation, that he has another hearing in another Sala scheduled soon on that same day, hence, he urgently requests the postponement of the instant hearing. Usually, a defense lawyer manifests that his client who is waiting in the other Sala is a detained prisoner, so the judge cannot possibly deny the request for postponement.

“The judge then asks in open court: ‘What is the pleasure of the other counsel?’ The reply to that question is always for postponement. Then, the judge sets the resumption of the hearing on a date usually a month away, at the very least. One of the lawyers then says that his calendar for that month is already full.  The judge sets the trial on another date, usually another month after, but one of the other lawyers says that he has another case on that date, in another province. Finally, the next hearing is set 3, 4 or even 5 months later.”

How appalling, the wheels of Justice grind woe with all those concocted delays. No wonder people take the law in their own hands. This is probably why the Chief Executive himself believes that due process is an obstacle to his war on drugs and that the end should justify the means.

Continuing with Mr. Oboso’s letter, he says: “I have also observed that before the trial proper of a case, there is a pre-trial conference where the lawyers of each side present documentary evidence for the necessary “markings,” and agree on the number of witnesses each will present during the trial of the case. Thereafter, the Court sets the start of the Trial of the case.

“Why can’t a hearing be made continuous on a daily basis from the date set by the Court during the Pre-Trial Conference? Maybe the Supreme Court should increase the number of divisions that will decide on cases before the Supreme Court.  If necessary, the number of justices should also be increased from the present 15 to 25. Thank you! Nanlo33.”

Apparently, Atty. Ma. Lourdes Sereno is the first chief justice ever who has called a “management meeting” with all the heads of offices present, including the 3 presiding justices of the 3 collegiate courts, namely, the Sandiganbayan, Court of Appeals, and Court of Tax Appeals. The purpose was to discuss the objectives of the Supreme Court en banc, that of the divisions, as well as individual targets.

CJ Sereno does have a court decongestion program funded by USAID, and pilot-tested in Quezon City. In just 14 months, the docket of  said city was reduced by 30 percent. “It was a simple formula,” explained the CJ, “Deploy enough lawyers and paralegals in a courtroom to take a detailed inventory of all the files, with a corresponding plan on how to resolve each pile. If a judge already has a management plan for her docket, she should go ahead and implement it.”

Mr. Oboso will be delighted with these other initiatives: A continuous trial system, a synchronized calendar for prosecutors, judges, and public attorneys, and a proposal for evidence to have a single marking. All that is comprised in a development plan to build modern, disaster-resilient infrastructure in 740 stations, and 2,400 courts nationwide.There is no question that CJ Sereno will leave her mark on our justice system; her term ends in 2030, which allows her to plan for the long haul.