Top officials of the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Interior and Local Government on Wednesday convened to discuss reforms in the country's justice system that would help decongest Philippine courts and jails.
SC Public Information Office chief and spokesman Theodore Te said Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas led the Justice Sector Coordinating Council (JSCC), the first of such meeting since 2011.
Te said the officials discussed a "wide range of topics affecting the judiciary," including case congestion and prison congestion caused by overstaying detainees.
Te could not immediately give further details of the meeting, saying a joint statement would be released on Thursday.
In a chance interview, however, Roxas said they discussed ways to expedite the resolution of cases of detainees who have already been incarcerated for too long.
"Kami naman sa Philippine National Police at Department of Interior and Local Government ay gagawin namin lahat para malutas o matanggal ang mga balakid na ito para sa mabilisang paglitis o mabilisang pagbigay ng hustisya sa ating mga kababayan," Roxas said.
The Philippine National Police is under the DILG.
Roxas noted that detainees are the ones who suffer the most from the country's snail-paced justice system.
He said he had recently ordered a census of all inmates under the custody of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, which is also under the DILG, and found out that at least 15 detainees who have yet to be convicted have already spent a longer time in jail than their actual sentence should they be convicted.
"Inilapit ko kay chief justice ang situation ng 15 presong ito at agad agaran daw niyang aaksyunan ito," Roxas said.
"Sa aming pananaw ay hindi pa nga na-convict ay sobra na ang panahon na na-detain sila. So baka maaari nang pakawalan ang mga ito," he added.
Roxas blamed the delay in the trial of the 15 detainees to the number of hearing postponements and rescheduling.
He said they are considering to release these 15 inmates "for humanitarian reasons," adding that the government plans to conduct a similar census in the provinces.
GMA News Online earlier reported that latest available data from the BJMP shows that its jails currently accommodate a total of 72,934 prisoners in the country's 17 regions—68,702 or around 94 percent of them are still "detainees" or have not yet been sentenced.
More local courts are needed to help speed up cases and de-congest the courts. But during the 14th Congress, under the Arroyo administration, four laws were passed creating only 10 additional regional trial courts.
In the succeeding Congress, however, President Benigno Aquino III enacted in 2012 and 2013 a total of 72 laws creating 258 first and second level courts, consisting of regional, metropolitan, and municipal trial courts.
Sereno had earlier lamented the living condition inside Philippine jails.
"For many of these prisoners, they have already accepted that a life in prison—while their cases are pending—is already their alternative lives. This is alarming to me," she said.
She noted how detainees would take turn in sleeping inside their cramp prison cells. "This in itself is condemnable, even before they are sentenced," she said.
The SC, last month, conducted simultaneous hearing and decision-making in the five most populated jail facilities in the country.
Dubbed "Judgment Day," courts in Manila and Quezon City in Metro Manila; Cebu City; Davao City; and Angeles City in Pampanga heard and decided on cases on the spot in an effort to decongest both Philippine court dockets and prison cells.
A total of 172 detainees were ordered released by courts in the five cities, all in one day. There are thousands of others, some jailed for years, still awaiting a decision on their fate. — KBK, GMA News