PAO lawyers urged to defend the poor
MANILA, Philippines–Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno rallied the country’s public lawyers on Wednesday to support judicial reforms, citing their crucial role in providing legal services to indigent litigants.
Speaking at the national convention of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), Sereno also laid out her reform agenda for the judiciary, conceding that she is still in the early stages of instituting changes as she began her third year as chief magistrate.
“I am expecting a lot from them, that they should carry the burden to help defend especially the indigent litigants,” Sereno told reporters in a brief interview.
“We really have to give time to indigent litigants. So many are languishing in jail without enough legal protection. We must all do everything we can to help them,” she added.
In her speech, Sereno cited the role of PAO lawyers as “active partners in reforms” in the judiciary, including efforts to speed up the resolution of cases and unclog court dockets.
“I think what is happening right now is that we in the judiciary and you, public attorneys, are collectively generating important changes in judicial procedures, and these are the kind of institutional shakeups that we need to help address court congestion and backlogs,” Sereno said, addressing some 1,500 PAO lawyers attending the third day of the five-day convention at the Manila Hotel.
She lauded PAO’s efforts to contribute to speedier trials, particularly in preventing the postponement of hearings. Currently, Philippine trials run to an average five to seven years.
Sereno noted in particular how PAO lawyers only caused 0.04 percent of court hearings to be postponed on their account.
The Chief Justice said the initial gains of judicial reforms were already being felt, particularly in programs that computerized court processes, including the electronic subpoena system.
She noted how the e-subpoena system had increased the compliance of police witnesses to court subpoenas by 90 percent, preventing postponements due to court absences.
Sereno said other judicial notices would soon go electronic, including the issuance of arrest warrants, hold departure orders and other court notices to bureaus and offices of implementing agencies such as the Department of Justice and the Department of Interior and Local Government.
“In other words, when all actors of the justice system are cooperating, then there is a great chance that indeed our people will feel that they are not being denied procedural due process, and that in fact, more or less, their substantive rights are being observed,” Sereno said in her speech.
PAO conferred on Sereno the award for Outstanding Chief Justice during simple rites on Wednesday, a merit that Sereno humbly received with “some discomfort,” saying she felt “might be too early to put such a feather of anyone’s cap.”
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