Recto: US State report right on “weak prosecutions, slow court procedures”

In this divided nation, there will be disagreements on certain conclusions in the US State Department's human rights report on the Philippines.

There should be no discord, however, on one passage in the report, which is true and incontrovertible: on our nation being plagued by "a weak and overburdened criminal justice system notable for slow court procedures, weak prosecutions, and poor cooperation between police and investigators."

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.

Our law enforcement system is plagued by logistical shortfalls and manpower shortages. The PNP is almost 50,000 men short of what is ideally required. They lack 18,000 long firearms and 3,000 patrol vehicles.

Our prosecutors are saddled by the same problems. Some 1,700 vacancies remain unfilled, burdening each of the 2,000 in service with an average punishing load of 500 cases.

Public Attorneys Office lawyers fare worse, with each of these underpaid, overworked public defenders attending 5,000 clients per year. Like prosecutors, they soldier on in spartan offices, where equipment and support staff are scarce.

Our courts are slowed down by vacancies in judgeships. To cite a few: Of the 367 Municipal Trial Courts, only 289 have judges filled. A fourth of 1,229 Regional Trial Courts either have no judge or have yet to be organized.

At any given time, the judiciary has a backlog of 600,000 cases.

The last stop in the justice system is congested as well.

The almost 20,000 inmates in eight Bureau of Corrections 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.

With all this squalor, it is no wonder that jail conditions have incubated crime empires whose tentacles breach prison walls and reach all nooks of the country.

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.

Source: Senate of the Philippines.

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