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SC spearheads Justice for the Poor project

June 30, 2008 6:26pm

MANILA, Philippines - Nothing that poverty remains to be one of the top reasons why very few Filipinos have access to justice, the Supreme Court has started implementing the “Access to Justice for the Poor Project.”

The project, which is being assisted by the European Union, aims to strengthen the capabilities of the poor, especially women and children, to pursue justice through increased knowledge about their legal rights and the judicial system.

Chief Justice Reynato Puno said the project is being implemented in 36 municipalities in the 15 poorest provinces in the country.

Assisting the high court in this endeavor are the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Alternative Law Groups Inc.

During the forum dubbed “Increasing Access to Justice” held at the Court of Appeals, Puno said poverty “is not only a persistent problem in our country, but one that is threatening to be overwhelming.”

“Perhaps, this is the reason why, efforts to protect the rights of the many who are poor against the arrogance of the strong who are few, are oftentimes met with a brick wall of skepticism,” Puno said in his speech.

Under the program, the DSWD will train selected women in project areas in gender awareness and their rights under the “Katarungang Pambarangay” justice system, and village officials in the selected municipalities as legal information officer of their respective communities.

The DILG, on the other hand, is in charge of training police officers on human rights, criminal justice system, and gender and child sensitivity. The DOJ’s participation is to train its prosecutors on the conditions of the poor and vulnerable groups residing in their municipalities.

The law group ALG, meanwhile, will assess existing laws on human rights and ensure country’s compliance to international legal conventions.

Aside from poverty, exorbitant legal fees and the infrequent use of Tagalog during court hearings are also affecting judicial access in the Philippines, as raised by representatives from various sectors who attended the two-day Supreme Court-sponsored forum.

In response, Puno said the Supreme Court will form different groups and committees to immediately look into the different suggestions of stakeholders in the justice system.

“Those suggestions that need action by the legislature or the President, we will be forwarding this matter to the appropriate body,” he said.

Puno said the Court is looking at ways to lower the exorbitant legal fees being filed by litigants, anti-poor laws and judges who decide cases without considering their social context.
The Philippine Judicial Academy, for its part, has also produced materials written in Filipino showing the stages of both civil and criminal actions.

Puno said he himself favors the use of Tagalog in Tagalog-speaking provinces during hearings, adding that this is already being pilot-tested in Bulacan with “very positive” results.

“You know, we are trying to pilot the use for instance of the Tagalog language in Bulacan and the result is very positive. And some sectors are trying to push this idea, not only in Bulacan but in Tagalog-speaking provinces like Cavite, Batangas, Nueva Ecija and the others. But we are still refining this thrust. We are calling on other experts to see how viable this would be,” he said.

So far, Puno said the use of Tagalog in the courts is proving to be in favor of litigants, especially poor litigants who are not proficient in the English language or who have little or no education.

“In the sense that the litigants understood better what was happening in the courtroom, they understood better what rights are being litigated by the lawyers and are being resolved by the judges. The communication was much more effective,” he added.

Puno said that at the moment, the Court is tweaking out minor problems in the project, such as training stenographers in taking down court statements said in Tagalog. - GMANews.TV
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