Obama visit delays new lawyers’ oath-taking

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The Supreme Court has reset the oath-taking of new lawyers from Monday, April 28, to May 5, to give way to the visit of US President Barack Obama.

“This resetting was prompted by concerns relating to the security arrangements made for the visit of the US president, falling on the same day as the original schedule of the oath-taking,” the Supreme Court public information office (PIO), headed by lawyer Theodore Te, said in a statement.

The oath-taking of the 2013 bar passers is now set at 2 p.m. on May 5 at the original venue, the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City, which is inside the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex.

The PIO said access to PICC, which is located a short distance from Roxas Boulevard, could “pose serious inconvenience” as well as “disruption and delay,” since some militant groups were expected to hold protest actions in front of the US Embassy along the boulevard. The President’s convoy might also use the road, the statement added.

 

Restrictive

“While we are not at liberty to reveal what the extent of the security arrangements are, we have been informed that they are quite restrictive and will pose serious inconvenience to access to PICC as well as disruption and delay to the schedule set by the Court for that day. These restrictions may also detract from the solemnity and joyous nature of the occasion,” the PIO said.

He added that because of the number of people involved— 1,174 inductees plus guests and personnel of the Supreme Court, “it was not possible to obtain an alternative venue… in such short notice.”

Te said those originally scheduled to sign the roll of attorneys on April 29 and 30, and May 2 will have to do so on May 6, 7 and 8, respectively.

“We ask for your understanding, as the circumstances that prompted the decision are beyond the control of the Court. We look forward to welcoming the 1,174 new lawyers on May 5 at the special en banc session of the Court at PICC starting at 2 p.m.,” the PIO said.

 

E-subpoenas

Meanwhile, in Baguio City, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas announced on Friday that the Supreme Court now allowed subpoenas to be sent online as part of the process of improving trial procedures that is being undertaken by the joint Justice Sector Coordinating Council.

Roxas, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno met here on Thursday to discuss the benefits of using the Internet to speed up the judicial process.

“It takes two months for registered mail to reach witnesses or whoever has been subpoenaed,” Roxas said. “When a litigant is poor, he or she can’t afford to wait for two months or three months of trial postponement, so the council agreed to start using electronic mail,” he added.

Courts and government prosecutors all over the country may start issuing electronic subpoenas, or e-subpoenas, on April 30, after the judiciary, the justice department and law enforcement agencies, like the Philippine National Police, have synchronized their respective systems, the interior secretary said.

Not on the agenda

But while the council discussed reform measures to speed up trials, it did not tackle the plunder charges against alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles, Roxas said. “Napoles was not in our agenda,” the official told reporters at a news conference here on Friday.

E-subpoenas are only the first of many changes being enforced in the judiciary to enable courts to conduct “continuous trials,” Roxas said, adding that cases often take about 10 years to resolve.

But continuous trials would mean that courts would be required to conduct trials every day until a case reaches its conclusion, he added.

This means, he said, that a litigant must hire lawyers who are not overburdened with multiple cases.

Online court warrants and judicial notices are also being discussed by the council, the interior secretary said, “but this must be implemented one step at a time.”

“This would mean aligning the documentary processes of various agencies … It is not just a matter of sending communication by e-mail because these communications would also need to be secured [against tampering or hacking],” Roxas said.

Justice, not just ‘tiis’

“We in the [Philippine National Police] also changed our rules, so a police officer who must testify for a trial must be assigned automatically to where the trial would take place,” he added.

“We need true justice, not just tiis,” Roxas said, echoing a pun used to indicate the slow pace of getting justice in the country.

The Cabinet official said the council dealt with reform options that would not require legislation.

Congress has been deliberating on two reform measures that would alter the way trials are conducted in the Philippines.

On April 3, the House committee on justice mounted a public consultation here for Book 1 of a new crime codification measure (House Bill No. 2300, or the proposed Philippine Code of Crimes). The consultation also tackled a bill that would require prosecutors to coordinate with police in the early stages of a criminal investigation (House Bill No. 2032, or the Criminal Investigation Act of 2013).

Allowing prosecutors to scrutinize the direction of a police investigation would help strengthen the case being built against a suspect, committee chair Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. told reporters. With a report from Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon

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