By: Ayee Macaraig
Accused assassin Manuel Cerna has languished in a Philippine jail for 15 years and not using a verdict, certainly one of numerous inmates enduring interminable trials which can be anticipated to get longer as an unrelenting drug war overwhelms the courts.
A notoriously slow and under-resourced judicial system has seen a “tidal wave” of latest circumstances as police have performed a nationwide crime crackdown in response to President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to eradicate all unlawful medicine from Philippine society.
The case of Cerna, 60, who nearly died of tuberculosis in one of many nation’s most overcrowded jails as his hearings dragged on, isn’t uncommon in that his time in jail whereas on trial is shut to reaching the minimal sentence.
“I get depressed. Some others here committed suicide because their wives left them. They lost all hope of freedom,” Cerna instructed AFP in the Manila jail surrounded by rusting barbed wire and the stench of rotting meals.
So-called “decader” inmates — as a result of they’ve spent 10 years or extra behind bars whereas on trial — are a symptom of a deeply flawed justice system that helped gasoline Duterte’s rise to the presidency final yr.
Duterte received the elections on a brutal law-and-order platform, promising swift justice mainly by killing tens of 1000’s of criminals and a no-mercy stance on convicted criminals who he stated couldn’t be rehabilitated.
Duterte’s police have certainly shot useless 1000’s of individuals as they’ve scoured slums looking drug traffickers and addicts, main rights teams to categorical alarm at what they are saying are a wave of extrajudicial killings.
This has undoubtedly averted many trials.
But one other 96,700 individuals have additionally been arrested as a part of the drug war since Duterte got here to energy, in accordance to the presidential spokesman, including to stress on jails that had been already almost six instances extra crowded than they had been constructed for.
Defendants usually have to wait months between hearings, just for the session to be delayed as a result of a decide is sick, a prosecutor fails to present up or a lawyer has one other engagement. Sometimes the case will get reassigned to a brand new decide and the entire course of begins from scratch.
In different circumstances, public attorneys assigned to defend poor suspects change jobs with out handing over essential paperwork to their substitute, or worse, information get misplaced, and once more the defendant is again at sq. one.
– ‘Vicious cycle’ –
“There is a tidal wave flooding the judiciary. (But) there is no attendant increase in the number of courts, judges, prosecutors and public attorneys,” Raymund Narag, assistant professor at Southern Illinois University in the United States, instructed AFP.
“Extrajudicial killings are justified for Filipinos because of the failure of the criminal justice system. It becomes a vicious cycle.”
Trials nationwide final a median of six to 10 years, in accordance to distinguished human rights lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno.
A Supreme Court activity pressure on jail decongestion final yr additionally stated “an innocent man is jailed for at least five years before he is eventually acquitted”.
One of the important thing issues is solely an absence of courts, prosecutors and judges.
There are simply 2,600 felony, civilian and different forms of courts for a inhabitants of 100 million, Supreme Court administrator Midas Marquez instructed AFP.
Thirty % of these courts haven’t any judges, in accordance to Marquez’s workplace.
This leaves the others with unattainable duties, with judges having to deal with up to 5,000 circumstances at anyone time, Marquez stated.
– ‘Band-aid’ options –
The Supreme Court has in current years sought to do what it will possibly, such as by introducing computerised information and establishing a system to lock in a agency timetable for hearings. Otherwise many months go with out hearings going down.
“(But) these initiatives are band-aid solutions. What we need are institutional solutions like adding courts and funding them, which require the support of congress and the executive (branch),” Marquez stated.
The authorities is fast-tracking the hiring of lots of of prosecutors and enhancing employees coaching, justice division undersecretary Antonio Kho instructed AFP.
Duterte has additionally promised to pour further funds into the penal system subsequent yr.
But he has additionally repeatedly made feedback which have raised questions on his administration’s intent on enhancing the nation’s jails and prisons.
“I prefer that they (inmates) sleep standing,” Duterte stated in March when discussing the issue of packed jails.
In a prolonged evaluation of the justice system, Duterte, 72, final month additionally claimed many prisoners needed to keep behind bars as a result of they grew to become [email protected] whereas serving time and loved common meals.
“They don’t want to go out. Because the food is free and their lover, they are in love, they want to stay there,” Duterte stated, as he insisted individuals couldn’t be rehabilitated in the Philippines’ jails.
“They are already monsters.”
However Cerna, the alleged assassin, insists he’s harmless and mourns the wasted years trapped behind bars away from his household.
“When my mother died, I wanted to break down. I wanted to shout but all I could do was cry,” stated Cerna, whose actual identify can’t be disclosed whereas his case is pending, recalling how he was determined to assist her.
“I wasn’t able to serve her in her dying years.”