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The legal system doesn’t work. Or more accurately, it doesn’t work for anyone except those with the most resources.

– Lawrence Lessig

Justice remains the tool of a few powerful interests; legal interpretations will continue to be made to suit the convenience of the oppressor powers.

– Che Guevara

TANAUAN CITY – When you do a Google search of the number of lawyers in the Philippines you will not find a definitive number. Estimates can range from 40,000 to over 100,000. An ABA (American Bar Association) Journal article dated September, 1992 estimated that there are 16.74 lawyers per 10,000 population in the Philippines. This translates to about 96,088 Filipino lawyers as of that date. An average of about 1,200 examinees pass the Philippine Bar every year. At the mortality rate for the Philippines as a whole about 200 lawyers pass away every year. My inexact arithmetic would say that we would now have about 120,000 lawyers in the Philippines. You could go to the Supreme Court website or even the membership rolls of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines. I am sure they add on the number of lawyers that pass the bar every year to the rolls but I don’t know how current they are with those who have passed away, migrated somewhere or stopped practicing for some reason. Either way, there are a lot of lawyers in the Philippines.

A report released in June of last year by the National Statistical Coordination Board revealed that lower Philippine Courts handle over a million cases a year including new and old (backlogged) cases. As of the report date, the number of new cases filed in 2012 still exceeded the number of cases that are disposed meaning that the backlog of unresolved cases continues to grow.

Despite many pronouncements to address this, we remain where we are. Section 15 (1), Article VIII of the 1987 Philippine Constitution unequivocally states “All cases or matters filed after the effectivity of this Constitution must be decided or resolved within twenty-four months from date of submission for the Supreme Court, and, unless reduced by the Supreme Court, twelve months for all lower collegiate courts, and three months for all other lower courts.” In a paper authored by Dean Alfredo Tadiar entitled “Unclogging the Court Dockets”, he said “Despite such deadlines, even the Supreme Court has not complied.”  Does this mean that all Justices of the Supreme Court from 1987 should have been impeached for culpable violation of the Constitution? What about the Justices for the lower courts? You hear one or two cases of this happening but yet, delays in court proceedings still happen.

We are coming up on the 5th anniversary of the Maguindanao Massacre. As of today, 1,814 days without justice. Maybe we should amend the Constitution to read “All cases or matters filed after the effectivity of this Constitution must be decided or resolved within twenty-four months from date of submission for the Supreme Court, and, unless reduced by the Supreme Court, twelve months for all lower collegiate courts, and three months from the date of filing (of complaint or information) for all other lower courts.” 

We cannot remain like this. If the system is irretrievably broken perhaps we should change the system. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.” The Philippine legal system is getting close to becoming this obstruction. For many Filipinos, the laws of the land have no meaning in their life for it has not served to improve their standard of living. If anything, people come in contact with the law only when they face its negative attributes.

The rule of law requires that people should be governed by accepted rules, rather than by the arbitrary decisions of rulers. These rules should be general and abstract, known and certain, and apply equally to all individuals.

Many of our laws because of the way they have been interpreted by courts now seem to be arbitrary despite the good intentions of their authors. Many of our laws are not known to many of our people and are used to oppress those whom the law should protect. The purpose of the law is to advance the general welfare of people. The purpose of the law is to protect people’s rights and basic liberties. Have we lost sight of these?

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