Prosecutors oppose SC rule waiving witnesses’ appearance

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State prosecutors have expressed their formal opposition to the Supreme Court’s judicial affidavit rule (JAR) that would allow witnesses to submit written testimonies instead of having to appear in court.

The JAR should be revoked, Prosecutor General Claro Arellano said in a May 23 letter to Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, citing the inadequate number of prosecutors and the possible dismissal of cases due to technicalities.

“While the National Prosecution Service (NPS) is aware that case congestion and delays should be addressed to hasten the delivery of justice, the implementation of the JAR is not the solution to these problems,” Arellano said in his letter.

“On the contrary, the JAR will only add to these concerns. Not only will it unjustly burden the prosecutors, defense lawyers and private practitioners but criminal cases will be resolved not on the basis of the evidence brought forth by the parties but rather due to mere technicalities,” he said.

Arellano pointed out that prosecutors would have very limited time to prepare judicial affidavits since they are already burdened by heavy workloads, such as trial work, including criminal and special proceedings, the conduct of preliminary investigations and inquest proceedings.

Many prosecution offices are also inadequately staffed, Arellano said. He said that in 2012, the plantilla positions for prosecutors numbered 2,412 but only 1,850 were filled, equivalent to a vacancy rate of 23 percent.

In 2012, he said, the case load for preliminary investigations of the NPS was 352,523 with an average of 191 cases per prosecutor. On the other hand, the case load for trials in lower courts alone was 391 cases per prosecutor.

“The preparation of judicial affidavits consumes more time than the conduct of direct examinations. A single affidavit cannot be completed in two hours, particularly when the witness is a child. The JAR will result in numerous dismissals of cases due to technicalities. Judges also cannot observe the demeanor or credibility of witnesses,” he said.

The JAR was promulgated by the high court in September last year and was supposed to take effect on Jan. 2 this year. Its implementation was suspended, however, because of an objection from the Prosecutors’ League of the Philippines and the high court’s decision to defer it for one year under certain conditions.

Under the JAR, when a party, whether plaintiff or defendant, questions his own witness, he no longer would need to place the witness on the witness stand.

As a substitute, the party or his lawyer merely submits the written sworn statement of his witness in a question-and-answer format. It also requires each party to the case to attach all his documentary evidence to the judicial affidavit which, in turn, must be submitted at least five days before the pre-trial or preliminary conference in the case.

The JAR was said to be effective in reducing the time used for presenting the testimonies of witnesses by about two-thirds in a pilot program in the Quezon City courts.

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