DAVAO City — Reforming the judiciary and ensuring the certainty of punishment is the best way to address the problem of illegal drugs and other crimes, a human rights lawyer told participants to a media forum in Davao City last Saturday.
Lawyer Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, chair of the Free Legal Assistance Group said the severity of punishment like resorting to extrajudicial killings won’t deter crimes.
“Killing all drug suspects on the street won’t solve the problem. The only solution is to identify the syndicates and put them in jail,” Diokno said.
He said the war on drugs is not just against the poorest of the poor but has also become a means to silence the political opposition and to conceal the shortcomings of the country’s justice system.
Diokno was apparently alluding to Senator Leila de Lima, who stands accused of protecting drug lords and is now in jail awaiting trial. The senator is a staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Diokno said among the problems confronting the judiciary is the lack of judges, noting that 20 percent of trial courts are vacant.
He added there are only a few trial lawyers because many find it more lucrative to engage in corporate lawyering.
He said the lack of judges and delay in trials have resulted in jail congestion.
“The country has the highest jail congestion rate in the world,” he said.
He urged a review of the compensation for judges to attract qualified lawyers aside from doing away with politics involved in appointing judges and prosecutors as well.
He further noted that only about two percent of the national budget goes to the judiciary.
Diokno, however, said the administration is obsessed with “hiding the real problems with fake news” which he said is “organized, well-funded and supported by government.”
He added some laws pertaining to the judiciary must be changed, for example, the prohibition on the Ombudsman to investigate members of the bench.
Diokno cited the case filed against the suspects in the Ampatuan Massacre as a glaring example of the country’s defective justice system.
He said that with so many suspects being line up resulting in prolonged trial “mawawala mga testigo.”
“Yong mga responsable talaga ang dapat unahin, saka na habulin ang iba to simplify the case,” he said.
Melinda Quintos de Jesus, director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility said the case was “designed to fail” due to the number of suspects identified by the prosecution.
She said there are 118 suspects including former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan, his father, the late Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and brother Andal Ampatuan Jr..
The massacre, which occurred on Nov. 23, 2009 in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao killed 58 people, 32 of them media workers. (mindanews)