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The Next Chief Justice

Supreme Court moves to declog Manila jails of overstaying inmates

July 9, 2008 6:34pm

MANILA, Philippines — Chief Justice Reynato Puno on Wednesday directed judges to speed up the trial of cases of inmates in Manila as he warned that those who stay longer in detention centers become “victims of injustice."

Puno expressed his concern over the sorry plight of inmates at the launch of the Supreme Court’s Justice on Wheels (JOW) Project, which is aimed at improving access to justice for those who could least afford it; those who are 70 years old and above, and detainees whose cases have been pending longer than the prescribed detention period for their cases.

If the main concern last year was on extra-judicial killings, he said, “this year let us shift our focus on the socio economic rights of the poor and increase their access to justice."

Puno said the Supreme Court chose the city of Manila as its pilot project because “where Manila goes, the entire nation goes."

The Manila City Jail, which has a capacity of only 2,500, currently holds 4,602 male inmates (including 268.Muslims) and 912 female inmates. Court officials said the case of women is worse because the jail is supposed to accommodate only 30 female inmates.

With Puno during the launch of the project was Manila Mayor Alfredo S. Lim, who directed city officials to go all out in support of the courts’ bid to declog the capital city’s jails of overstaying inmates.

An P8-million truck serves as the court sala for the JOW Project. It has a judge and a full court retinue, who mission is to decongest the City Jail and the Manila Youth Rehabilitation Center (MYRC) in the next three months.

On hand at the launch to try cases that have been pending for several years were Regional Trial Court Judge Reynaldo Ros and Metropolitan Trial Court Judge Roslyn Tria. Two cases of inmates who are old enough to continue staying in jail and whose cases has remained unresolved for so long were dismissed on the spot by the attending judges. The cases of several other inmates were also dismissed on the spot.

Chief Justice Puno took the opportunity to meet all 50 Regional and Metropolitan Trial Judges, during which he expressed his concern over the rampant “planting of evidence" by the police against drug suspects.

He said what he saw at the City Jail “strikes the conscience. This does not just happen in Manila but all over the Philippines."

Mayor Lim said he deeply shared Puno’s concern since justice is one of his priority agenda.

Lim said three minors aged 16 and 17 from Iligan City and Lanao del Sur province in Mindanao were maids who fled their employers in Cavite province last June due to nonpayment of their wages, only to be arrested after they reached Manila by bus. The mayor sent a lawyer from the City Legal Office and an official from the City Social Welfare office to Cavite to demand the pay of these maids. - GMANews.TV