MANILA –Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto on Sunday urged the government to “fix” the country’s justice system as there are “ills” that must be solved.
Recto made this call following the recent human rights report on the Philippines of the US State Department which noted a “a weak and overburdened criminal justice system notable for slow court procedures, weak prosecutions, and poor cooperation between police and investigators.
He said that regardless of the ongoing campaign against illegal drugs, the justice system should be improved.
“Drug war or not, we need to fix the problems of our justice system. These are preexisting ills we must all solve. The strong foundations of our democracy stand on how strong our justice infrastructure is,” Recto said.
“We have long been aware of that, and we have long pleaded guilty to that charge. The said report merely reiterates a crisis we have long been grappling with,” he added.
Recto, meanwhile, enumerated several issues plaguing the country’s justice system including logistical shortfalls and manpower shortages among law enforcement authorities.
“The Philippine National Police (PNP) is almost 50,000 men short of what is ideally required. They lack 18,000 long firearms and 3,000 patrol vehicles,” Recto said.
He also pointed out that prosecutors have the same problem with some 1,700 vacancies which remain unfilled, burdening each of the 2,000 in service with an average punishing load of 500 cases.
Moreover, Public Attorneys Office (PAO) lawyers continue to be “underpaid, overworked public defenders attending 5,000 clients per year.” They also “lack equipment and support staff are scarce”, he said.
Philippine courts are also slowed down by vacancies in judgeships. Citing a few, Recto said that of the 367 Municipal Trial Courts, only 289 have judges. A fourth of 1,229 Regional Trial Courts either have no judge or have yet to be organized. The judiciary has a backlog of 600,000 cases.
Recto also noted that almost 20,000 inmates in eight Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) prisons are housed in cells which have an average congestion rate of 215 percent.
“Over at the BJMP, its 463 jails have a congestion rate of almost 500 percent, with each of the 116,000 inmates squeezed into less than one square meter of cell space,” Recto said.