SLOW JUSTICE: Eight Iloilo courts lack judges

The lobby of the Iloilo Hall of Justice in Iloilo City. (File/Ricky Alejo)

By: Kaya Guillen

SEVEN Regional Trial Courts and a Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) branch in Iloilo City lack presiding judges since 2017, causing delays in court proceedings.

These court branches have been waiting for judicial appointments from the Office of the President for almost a year.

The Office of the President received a shortlist of applicants for seven RTC branches on Nov 19, 2018, and a shortlist of applicants for one Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) branch was received Oct 9 in the same year.

This violates Article 8, Section 9 of the Constitution which states that the President must appoint presiding judges for lower courts within three months of receiving a shortlist.

In lieu of a presiding judge, these courts are currently managed by assisting presiding judges who have to tend to their own court branches as well.

A screen grab of the shortlist of applicants for seven Regional Trial Court branches received by Malacañang on Nov. 19, 2018 Almost a year after, the Palace has yet to appoint the presiding judges. (JBC website)

“Since [acting presiding judges] have two branches to attend to, normally that would affect focus. That would also affect [the court’s] schedule because of the additional work,” Central Philippine University College of Law Dean Atty. Zacarias Bedona, Jr. pointed out.

Bedona added that acting presiding judges would have to divide the week between two courts, usually holding hearings once or twice a week in one court and the rest of the days in the other. For courts with a regular presiding judge, cases are resolved more quickly because hearings are held every day.

“Courts now are very congested. There are so many pending cases. There are lacking members of the judiciary, as well as the prosecution. So sometimes a normal case which would have been heard once or twice a month will take you several months till the next hearing,” stated Integrated Bar of The Philippines (IBP) Iloilo Chapter President Atty. Ian Besana.

Besana pointed out that the sparse scheduling of cases could cause a case to drag on for years, instead of being resolved within months.

“The normal reaction of our clients is always a complaint. Why is it attorney that our case, attorney, kadugay?,” he responded when asked about the effect of the vacancies on the relationship between clients and practicing lawyers.

“[The judicial vacancies] are contrary to the concept of justice which needs to be fast. We have this concept that says, ‘Justice delayed is justice denied,’” Besana added.

When asked why the judicial vacancies in the city remain unfilled, both lawyers were unsure as to why.

“I could not say exactly why the government could not fill in the vacant courts. There is budget for the judiciary, one of the big budgets. But still just for example, in Iloilo City, there are several branches without regular trial judges. You could imagine that,” Bedona elaborated.

Besana said that IBP-Iloilo already took measures to help address the lacking judges in Courts.

“In the IBP for our part, several years ago we passed a resolution encouraging the President and Supreme Court to hasten the appointment of judges at least to help decongest the backlog of cases. That was also a resolution urging the creation of new courts.”

He said that the resolution was instrumental in the creation of new courts in Panay, but the shortage of judges still persists.

Kaya Guillen is a 2nd year student of Communications and Media Studies at UP Visayas-Miagao. This report is part of their requirements in CMS 131 (News Reporting) under Dr. Zoilo Andrada