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BY ANA MARIE PAMINTUAN: REFORMS IN INCREMENTS - GoJust launched


FEBRUARY 24 -We probably have Dirty Rody to thank for this: yesterday a program was launched to implement reforms that will improve the administration of justice, promote respect for human rights and prevent impunity. It’s called GoJust, for Governance in Justice. With funding of about P1 billion from the European Union and Spain, the three-year GoJust will involve reforms in the justice sector, particularly in improving coordination among the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice and Department of the Interior and Local Government. As laid out at the launching, GoJust probably won’t attract a lot of attention from a public that has heard too many promises of improvements in the administration of justice. The country head of an international agency involved in aid told me their group believes the problems besetting the Philippine justice sector are so intractable they think providing funding for judicial reforms is a waste. READ MORE...

ALSO: EDITORIAL - Global concerns


FEBRUARY 24 -The ambassador of the United Kingdom, Asif Ahmad, said change has come to the Philippines under President Duterte, although not necessarily in a good way. Meanwhile, the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines said the President’s “unsettling” rhetoric was driving European investors away from the Philippines, resulting in the loss of thousands of job opportunities. Responding to Ahmad, who has been assigned in the Philippines for a few years, Malacañang riposted that his sentiment was not shared by the majority of Filipinos. Palace officials cited surveys showing over 80 percent of Filipinos expressing satisfaction in the way Duterte is running the government. This, however, does not directly address the concerns raised by Ahmad, which others share, particularly those in the world community. Amnesty International, in its annual report on the state of human rights around the globe, included Duterte among anti-establishment politicians who are contributing to a pushback on human rights worldwide. Named by AI together with Duterte were US President Donald Trump, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. READ MORE...

ALSO: EDITORIAL - National unity


FEBRUARY 27 -There were calls for national unity as two rallies representing opposing sides of the political fence were staged the other day, the 31st anniversary of the people power revolt. The peaceful uprising during four remarkable days in February 1986 succeeded because millions of Filipinos united in showing their desire to put an end to the dictatorial regime of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. But the anniversary commemoration the other day showed a nation divided. This need not be seen as the seed of destabilization but as a healthy expression of contrasting opinions in a democracy, which is the principal gift of the people power revolt. A democracy needs an effective system of checks and balances, which is provided mostly by the political opposition. The national referendum on Rodrigo Duterte took place last year, and he won the people’s mandate by a landslide in free elections. Although his survey ratings since then have consistently slipped, the President remains enormously popular, and he and his aides need not be rattled by criticism or public expressions of dissent. READ MORE...

ALSO: By Sara Soliven De Guzman - A threatened democracy


FEBRUARY 27 -By Sara Soliven De Guzman
We are Asia’s oldest democracy. Said to be located in the world’s most economically dynamic region, we are filled with an amazing human and natural resources. Thus, by now we should be far more stable, progressive, rich and well-governed than the rest of the countries in Asia. But look at where we are now. For a while we were looked at as a rising tiger in Asia. Now, the dollar has gone down to its lowest since the Aquino administration. What happened? Obviously growth has remained constrained by ineffective and inefficient governance, poor regulations, increasing corruption, a very weak rule of law particularly on issues concerning the environment, health, natural disasters, education and employment. READ MORE...


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Reforms, in increments

MANILA, FEBRUARY 27, 2017 (PHILSTAR)  SKETCHES By Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 24, 2017 - We probably have Dirty Rody to thank for this: yesterday a program was launched to implement reforms that will improve the administration of justice, promote respect for human rights and prevent impunity.

It’s called GoJust, for Governance in Justice. With funding of about P1 billion from the European Union and Spain, the three-year GoJust will involve reforms in the justice sector, particularly in improving coordination among the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice and Department of the Interior and Local Government.

As laid out at the launching, GoJust probably won’t attract a lot of attention from a public that has heard too many promises of improvements in the administration of justice.

The country head of an international agency involved in aid told me their group believes the problems besetting the Philippine justice sector are so intractable they think providing funding for judicial reforms is a waste.

READ MORE...

As I have previously noted, frustration with the slow, inefficient and corrupted criminal justice system is a major reason for the strong public support for President Duterte’s brand of swift but brutal justice.

This frustration has been percolating for many years now, bringing to power Dirty Harry types such as Sen. Panfilo Lacson and even “The Butcher,” retired Army general Jovito Palparan. Duterte was genuinely popular as mayor of Davao City, despite criticism of his human rights record.

* * *

There have been efforts for some time now to improve the administration of justice.

The other day I ran into retired Supreme Court Justice Adolf Azcuna, now chancellor of the SC’s Philippine Judicial Academy, which as the name implies handles training programs for magistrates.

He told me that judicial reforms have been ongoing for over a decade now. Among the reforms is the mandatory referral of cases for court-annexed mediation before trial. Only if mediation fails does trial start.

Azcuna said mediation has had a 62 percent success rate in resolving court cases quickly.

The SC also launched “Justice on Wheels” or mobile courtrooms in 2004. Among other things, the program looks into the status of court cases in which defendants have been in jail longer than the penalty they might receive if found guilty. Thousands of inmates have been freed under the program, Azcuna said.

More could be freed, but the judiciary has only eight “Justice on Wheels” units deployed nationwide.

There lies one of the problems in the judicial system: limited funds.

* * *

The judiciary has consistently been allocated only less than one percent of the annual national budget, Azcuna pointed out. This amounts to about P17 billion this year. The judiciary augments this through its self-generated funds – court filing fees that amount to about P6 billion annually.

There are enough courtrooms, he said, but to make ends meet, the judiciary must keep about 20 percent of trial courts vacant. The country currently has 2,600 judges and about 110 justices in the Court of Tax Appeals, Sandiganbayan, Court of Appeals and the SC.

Azcuna said there are enough funds for training members of the judiciary. The training includes effective writing of decisions and gender sensitivity. Under GoJust, the training will include sessions on international humanitarian law, human rights and women empowerment.

Perhaps they can include precise writing, so that legal documents will be shorn of gobbledygook that wastes paper and confuses non-lawyers.

Computerization of court records has also been ongoing for some time along with efforts to improve case management.

Azcuna notes that Philippine court rules are patterned after the American one. But the US has a jury system, and applying similar procedures in the Philippines slows down adjudication.

* * *

Increasing the budget of the judiciary requires political support, which is probably why its share in the annual government appropriation has remained low.

Noynoy Aquino openly expressed his frustration with the judiciary, notably the SC, when he was in power. The first president to have his congressional allies impeach a chief justice railed against “judicial overreach,” which he said tied the hands of the executive.

That “overreach” is made possible by the Constitution, and it will require an amendment to delete or modify that specific provision in the Charter. President Duterte, who is supporting a constitutional rewrite, may include this in his Cha-cha agenda.

Du30 doesn’t seem to be a big fan of the judiciary, a co-equal branch that has the power to stop his orders and reverse his policies. But being a former prosecutor, he must also understand the funding needs of the justice sector and can urge his congressional allies to increase the courts’ annual appropriation.

Another judicial reform requires legislation: empowering courts to allow community service in lieu of a prison sentence for misdemeanors. At present, Azcuna said, this is allowed only for offenders below 18 years old, for misdemeanors that carry a prison term of about 30 days.

With the glacial pace of Philippine justice, there are many such offenders aged 18 and older who are “overstaying” in jails nationwide, with their time in detention far exceeding the prison term they might be meted out in case of conviction.

This is a grave injustice, and naturally those who are hit are the impoverished who can’t afford topnotch lawyers to keep them from ever setting foot in a jail cell.

Azcuna prefers to look on the bright side, emphasizing that reforms have been ongoing to improve the administration of Philippine justice.

The public just needs to be better informed about the changes, he said. Yesterday’s GoJust was the latest installment in the reforms.

Problems will be tackled “one by one,” Azcuna reassured me. “This can’t be done overnight.”


EDITORIAL - Global concerns (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 24, 2017 - 12:00am 2 40 googleplus0 0

The ambassador of the United Kingdom, Asif Ahmad, said change has come to the Philippines under President Duterte, although not necessarily in a good way. Meanwhile, the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines said the President’s “unsettling” rhetoric was driving European investors away from the Philippines, resulting in the loss of thousands of job opportunities.

Responding to Ahmad, who has been assigned in the Philippines for a few years, Malacañang riposted that his sentiment was not shared by the majority of Filipinos. Palace officials cited surveys showing over 80 percent of Filipinos expressing satisfaction in the way Duterte is running the government.

This, however, does not directly address the concerns raised by Ahmad, which others share, particularly those in the world community. Amnesty International, in its annual report on the state of human rights around the globe, included Duterte among anti-establishment politicians who are contributing to a pushback on human rights worldwide. Named by AI together with Duterte were US President Donald Trump, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

READ MORE...

The kidnapping and grisly murder of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo prompted President Duterte to ban the Philippine National Police from undertaking anti-drug operations. But drug-related executions, this time attributed to vigilantes, continue, with Amnesty counting an average of eight to 10 killings daily.

The bad news about the Philippines has been unrelenting overseas, and the government cannot afford to shrug this off forever. As the European Chamber reported, two potential investors from the European Union recently canceled expansion plans in the country. The investors, one in manufacturing and the other in information technology, would have created a total of about 9,000 jobs. More economic opportunities will be lost if the Europeans drop the country from the EU’s expanded Generalized System of Preferences over human rights concerns.

The impact of such concerns may be felt in small increments from individual countries. But taken together, the negative impact on the country can be significant and cannot be ignored.


EDITORIAL - National unity (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 27, 2017 - 12:00am 0 2 googleplus0 0

There were calls for national unity as two rallies representing opposing sides of the political fence were staged the other day, the 31st anniversary of the people power revolt.

The peaceful uprising during four remarkable days in February 1986 succeeded because millions of Filipinos united in showing their desire to put an end to the dictatorial regime of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. But the anniversary commemoration the other day showed a nation divided.

This need not be seen as the seed of destabilization but as a healthy expression of contrasting opinions in a democracy, which is the principal gift of the people power revolt. A democracy needs an effective system of checks and balances, which is provided mostly by the political opposition.

The national referendum on Rodrigo Duterte took place last year, and he won the people’s mandate by a landslide in free elections. Although his survey ratings since then have consistently slipped, the President remains enormously popular, and he and his aides need not be rattled by criticism or public expressions of dissent.

READ MORE...

Even a popular president and his officials can make mistakes or be tempted to abuse power and its perks. They should not expect citizens in a free society, especially the political opposition, to keep silent about such mistakes and abuses. They should even welcome criticism, so that they can implement measures to correct mistakes or address inadequacies in government service. An administration that does not tolerate criticism and dissent is bound to implode from its own follies.

The opposition, for its part, must respect the people’s mandate even as it plays the role of watchdog against lapses and abuses committed by those in power. For political opposition to be effective, it must have credibility. Malicious and unfounded criticism, smear campaigns and deliberate misinformation tend to backfire and weaken the opposition.

Last Saturday’s rallies must be seen as healthy expressions of divergent opinions in a free society. In a functioning democracy, people can agree to disagree.


A threatened democracy AS A MATTER OF FACT By Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 27, 2017 - 12:00am 0 4 googleplus0 0


By Sara Soliven De Guzman

We are Asia’s oldest democracy. Said to be located in the world’s most economically dynamic region, we are filled with an amazing human and natural resources. Thus, by now we should be far more stable, progressive, rich and well-governed than the rest of the countries in Asia.

But look at where we are now. For a while we were looked at as a rising tiger in Asia. Now, the dollar has gone down to its lowest since the Aquino administration. What happened?

Obviously growth has remained constrained by ineffective and inefficient governance, poor regulations, increasing corruption, a very weak rule of law particularly on issues concerning the environment, health, natural disasters, education and employment.

READ MORE...

My father, the late Maximo V. Soliven once wrote, “In our democracy we leave it to the wisdom of the people to choose our leaders, including the President. Democracy as we practice it, however, is a bit like Russian roulette. You know the trick with a half-loaded revolver. Sometimes the gun-hammer clicks on an empty chamber. Sometimes there’s a live round in it. Sometimes, our people are not wise.

Sometimes, Bar topnotchers, leaders with excellent degrees from U.P., Ateneo, La Salle, PMA, Wharton, Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, Oxford, etc., betray our people. A diploma may guarantee ability, but this ability can be used for wrong, lustful or avaricious ends. This is democracy’s drawback. Nobody can peer into the hearts of men and women. Democracy is a difficult proposition all around. But, under Marcos we tried dictatorship, and it didn’t work either.”

So timely, as the country is facing issues that are not actually new, issues that have long been there for ages. All because we made the wrong choices in leadership.

To our people, the great event of February 25, 1986, was the birth of a new democracy. It was a chance for us to rise, to regain the spirit that was once lost under the Marcos dictatorship. It was with great jubilation and the highest optimism that we welcomed the advent of a new government. But what happened after?

The 1986 revolution had an effect on our new-found democracy. Looking back, yes, we felt liberated after the 21-year authoritarian rule of Marcos (what a despot – cruel and oppressive). But after a few years of that triumphant event, our democracy shriveled and shrank. National Artist, F. Sionil Jose once quipped, “Cory Aquino's EDSA revolution could not even have our garbage properly collected. Worse, 19 farmer demonstrators were killed near Malacañang because she refused to see them. True to her oligarchic class, she declared a revolutionary government without doing anything revolutionary; instead, she turned EDSA I into a restoration of the old oligarchy. So today, we are reaping the results of her negligence, ignorance and folly.”

The rule of the majority continued to be the rule of the oligarchy. And those who were voted into power by the people, the elected representatives of our land, turned their backs on the Filipinos. They continue to enrich themselves with corruption and by curtailing progress and disrespecting the law of the land.

Today, we are largely governed by laws primarily enacted from other people or from statues of other countries. We should have the proud satisfaction of working out our own laws, considering our peculiar needs and problems, our customs and character as a people, our enlightened sense of right and justice. But how can we achieve this when we have legislators who seem to be more interested in turning the Senate into one theatrical farce than fulfilling their mandate for the good of the country?

Our country is politically young.

There is probably no nation today whose sets of laws are so irregularly assorted and incongruous as ours. This is due to the changes (the series of revolts) in our national history, and to the unsystematic manner of legislation which for some time we have been led by circumstances to adopt. The time has come when the aggravated confusion of our laws can no longer be reconciled with our self-respect and our sense of responsibility.

We need to modify our laws to make them conform with our culture, customs, traditions because it is essential to reaffirm our national unity. Don’t forget that our constitution was patterned after our colonizers and the mentality of our lawmakers is that with foreign influences of the past. Now, we need to cultivate our own identity and strengthen the structures of government with a new mindset. We need to put to test the true worth of every important reform, whether social, scientific or political – affecting the welfare of the people.

We need to save our democracy by using it in the right way; by upholding and protecting our Constitution and strengthening it so that we can benefit from it. We need to protect the highest positions of leadership.

In times of national crises, or when problems that profoundly affect our people demand a decision, it is proper that we submit our judgment to the test of our national ideology. But to this day, I’m not quite sure what it is. What is our national identity? Who are we?

Our strength as a nation lies in work, in unity and coordination of efforts; in the rapid development of a solid national economy, in an intense, all-pervading love of country, that should make everyone of us ready to render service, to undergo any hardship or sacrifices, in order to achieve our national security and salvation.

'KILL-KILL POWER REVOLUTION'

Last Saturday was a show of two forces: the yellow revolution and the black revolution.

One in EDSA and one in Luneta. Did they achieve their goals? Were they able to stage another People Power Revolution or did it end up as a “kili-kili” power revolution?

Clearly, they just wanted to show who was mightier and more powerful; who had the most number of people. This anniversary should have been celebrated to remember the ‘day’ that was. It was a victorious day in our country’s history. Let us not desecrate it anymore. Let us not use it in vain. It should be a part of our history which our youth should look back to and study with great pride. Do not create an EDSA 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10… If you want another revolution come up with something new and original. You can never recreate that moment, that hour, the spirit of 1986.

Have we lost that spirit? Have we extinguished the flame that was ignited in EDSA? As my father would say: “But the true spirit of the day is faith, courage and optimism: faith in ourselves, faith in the capabilities of our people and in our national destiny; courage to carry on the patriotic work commenced by the heroic dead, firm determination to exert every effort to achieve the fullest national vindication, and to make our country free, progressive and great; and a joyous optimism in the success of our efforts and the eventual triumph of our cause.”

We should keep with democracy and democratic principles. The rights and the form of government guaranteed by our Constitution represent those ideals to which we have pledged ourselves as a people. We should defend them with all our might. We have men who sow seeds of discord and even of revolutions. They are the ones who threaten our democracy, they are dangerous enemies of democracy, decency and justice.

Yes, we did it in EDSA. Now let us move forward and work out once again, the salvation of our country and our people.


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