Home Commentary We need more prosecutors and judges to give justice for children

We need more prosecutors and judges to give justice for children

This is a story of victory and triumph. A child, calling her Audrey, not her real name, suddenly remembers how she was sexually assaulted by her uncle when she was seven years old.

She buried the pain and memory deep inside. It was her secret. She was scared by his threats to kill her if she told. He thought he got away with it.

One day, Audrey was in school when the teacher and students were discussing child rights and sexual abuse. Audrey reacted emotionally and cried with the pain and memory of the sexual assault.

She had kept it hidden for so long that the hurt and pain burst out. The teacher brought Audrey to the guidance counselor, a former staff of the Preda Foundation, who knew what to do. The local government social worker brought Audrey to the Preda home for abused children. 

At Preda, she was empowered to deal with the trauma. She then bravely, with hope for justice, filed a strong legal complaint with the prosecutor with details of the time and place and how it happened.

For victims of sexual abuse, once the memory comes back, it can be as clear as if it only happened yesterday. But there was a long delay with the prosecutor. It took many months and representation by the Preda social workers until the prosecutor finally decided in favor of Audrey and the case was to the court. 

Long delays favor the accused. The defense lawyers used delaying tactics hoping that Audrey to give up because of “fatigue.” A payoff to her parents to get her to drop her complaint was not possible because she was safe in the Preda home.

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There were many more stressful days of hurt and pain as Audrey and many more children waited for their day in court but it seemed it would never come. Was it delaying tactics of the defense lawyers that the judge favored and allowed? We can never know.

Then after a year and three months, Audrey was finally able to testily. It was strong and detailed. The accused had only denial as a defense and could not overcome the testimony of Audrey. 

The question that everyone is asking is why it took so long. Almost two years have passed from the time she filed the complaint when Audrey finally took the witness stand. Other cases take longer than three years before the judge will decide.

Justice delayed is justice denied, it is said, but who is failing in their responsibility? The courts? No, not really. In some cases, yes. However, the family courts are overloaded. The judges work non-stop and have too many cases such as adoption, reconciliation of spouses, family controversy, petitions for guardianship, custody of children, habeas corpus, and many more.  

There are too few prosecutors and judges qualified and trained to do the job. The most important task of the judiciary and the executive in this beautiful country is delivering justice to suffering children who deserve justice.

Some children get justice quickly before fast-moving judges. In other courtrooms, they wait many years. One of the most important tasks of the judicatory and the Department of Justice is delivering swift, speedy justice without doubt for sexually abused and assaulted children.

They are the most vulnerable and the most hurt. They suffer the longest and are the most neglected and the most ignored. There were times past when child rape and sexual assault was a dirty secret never revealed and instead brushed under the carpet and was almost socially accepted. It was for millions a horrendous heinous crime and a fact of life before the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). 

This writer was a Philippine delegate to the convention in Helsinki, Finland that wrote the final draft of the UNCRC. It was drafted mostly by NGOs and approved on 20 November 1989 and entered into force in September 1990. Then, each nation had to make its own child protection laws based on the charter. 

The Philippines has strong, well-crafted laws and a proud legal profession that, however, is not enough to implement the laws effectively as there are too few judges and prosecutors. It is a serious problem and it is unacceptable when justice for a raped child can take three years. It is the sworn duty of the executive branch to remedy this serious failure to prepare, train pre-select, and appoint just, honest, educated prosecutors and judges. 

I will leave you with the comments of an eminent professor, Raymund E. Narag, who has some very impressive figures. He writes:  

“As of January 10, 2024 data from Trial Court Locator of the Philippine Supreme Court, there are 2,741 courts nationwide. Of these, 2,033 are occupied by a sitting judge (74.17%), 526 are vacant (19.19%), 122 are unorganized (4.45%) and 60 are newly created (2.19%). This means that 1 in every 4 courts do not have assigned judges. On top of these, interview data shows that there could be a similar number of vacancies among public prosecutors and the Public Attorney’s Office.

Thus, the number of court vacancies where either a judge, a public prosecutor, or a PAO lawyer is not fully designated to a particular court branch could be as high as 50 percent. This is a major problem that affects the administration of justice and leads to tremendous negative outcomes such as delays in hearings, jail and prison congestion and violence, high recidivism rates, and a huge cost of running the criminal justice system. In many anecdotal cases, judges’ positions are vacant for 4 to 6 years.” 

The professor in his published article has outlined the solution, he goes on to say:

“One of the major culprits to this problem is the delay in the appointments of judges, public prosecutors, and Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) by the Office of the President. The Office of the President must seriously consider this as a top priority and, in coordination with the Supreme Court and the Department of Justice, must devise mechanisms on how to recruit, select, appoint, and promote criminal justice actors efficiently and meritoriously.”  

The Philippines has a challenge ahead of it and with great judicial minds, it can greatly improve its standing in the world for effectiveness. At present, the Philippines with a score of 0.46, ranks 100th out of 142 countries in the WJP Rule of Law Index 2023. In the East Asia and Pacific region, Manila ranked 13th out of 15. 

These are the facts. They stand as the challenge facing the executive branch of government at present and it is never too late to make amends and do the nation proud by showing that the Philippines can have the swiftest and most honest judiciary of integrity anywhere. We just have to work together for the nation and especially the abused children who hunger and thirst for justice.

Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse. The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS.news.

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