By Rey Panaligan, April 14 2019; Manila Bulletin

Image Credit to Manila Bulletin

Chief Justice Lucas P. Bersamin has pledged to launch more Justice Zones in the provinces in coordination with the Supreme Court (SC), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Department of Interior and Local Governments (DILG) to expedite the resolution of cases in the trial courts and decongest jails.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin (SC PIO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Justice Zone is one of the projects of the Justice Sector Coordinating Council (JSCC) which is supported by the Justice Sector Reform Programme: Governance in Justice (GOJUST) under a financial grant by the European Union (EU).

The country’s fourth Justice Zone was launched in Angeles City last Friday. Earlier, three Justice Zone projects had been launched in Quezon City, Cebu City, and Davao City.

“In the coming months, we will look at rural or provincial areas because most of these justice zones so far, all four, are in densely populated areas and they are in the urban setting,” Bersamin said.

Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra, Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez, and GOJUST program leader Christian Eldon attended the launching ceremony in Angeles City.

Bersamin said “the Justice Zone is an area where local justice sector agencies such as the police, prosecutors, judges, public attorneys, and managers of detentions facilities identify problems and arrive at common solutions to address them.”

During the launching in Angeles City, the Chief Justice acknowledged the success of projects under the JSCC program on continuous trial and automation such as the e-court system, electronic subpoena, and the e-dalaw or electronic visitation program.

Bersamin said the introduction of a continuous trial system and plea bargaining for drugs cases in Quezon City resulted in the reduction of up to 70,000 pending civil and criminal cases — from 640,000 as of December 2016 to 570,000 as of December 2017.

He said the opening of the fourth Justice Zone venue means that “vital justice services will henceforth be rendered more effective by bringing together the coordinative capabilities of each agency of justice for the benefit of the public.”

“The SC, DOJ, and DILG are now in the planning stages of formulating a convergence budget for a set of projects towards improving the capacity, operations, and effectivity of our justice sector. With this strategy, cooperation and coordination already occur at the earliest stages,” he added.

Secretary Guevarra said members of the justice sector should gain insights into the operational and logistical challenges each of them face.

“These insights become the basis for us to address gaps and weaknesses in our respective systems, which in turn embolden us to further strengthen our bonds of cooperation and collaboration,” he said.

Court Administrator Marquez said that in Cebu City, GOJUST has supported the joint training between the Department of Health and concerned agencies, such as the BJMP and the Cebu Provincial jail personnel, on drug testing for inmates involved in drug cases and for those who have availed themselves of the plea-bargaining program for drug dependents.