The Philippine Courts are undoubtedly clogged with innumerable pending cases before it which leads to the adage that justice delayed is justice denied. Indeed the Supreme Court acknowledges that about seventy seven (77%) of all cases pending before the Philippine Courts are criminal cases, thus in its Resolution A.M. No. 15-06-10-SC issued on June 30, 2015, it approved the recommendation of the Chairman of the Special Committee on Speedy Trial on the Proposed Guidelines for Continuous Trial of Criminal Cases in different pilot courts that took effect on August 17, 2015.
The designated pilot courts include Metropolitan trial courts, Regional trial courts, Drug courts and Family courts of Makati City, Manila City, Quezon City, and Marikina City; Metropolitan trial courts, Regional trial courts, and Drug courts of Pasig City; Metropolitan trial courts and Regional trial courts of Pasay City; Metropolitan trial courts of Paranaque City; and the Regional trial courts and Family courts of Muntinlupa City.
The main principle of the Continuous Trial is to help declog the court dockets and to expedite the resolution of criminal cases. After the successful pilot testing of Continuous Trial on the above-mentioned first and second level courts within Metro Manila, the continuous trial system will soon be implemented sometime in September 2017 across all Philippine courts nationwide. The new rule on speedy trial shall apply to the newly filed criminal cases which likewise cover special laws and rules in the first and second level courts, the Court of Tax Appeals and the Sandiganbayan.
Among the pertinent goals on the implementation of the Continuous Trial System are the termination of drug related cases within 60 days from the start of the trial with stringent prohibition on motion for postponement except on reasonable grounds and to trim down the length of trial duration in criminal cases that usually drag on for many years. It also requires the promulgation of judgment within 90 days. Hearing on motions, pre-trial, arraignment and the promulgation of judgments shall be made every Friday morning. Trial hearings are to be held every Monday to Thursday that should begin exactly at 8:30 in the morning and 2:00 in the afternoon.
It can be noted that this initiative in the justice system in the Philippines is in response to the findings of the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative on its project testing analysis conducted in 2015 providing that special procedural and case management reforms have a significant impact in reducing the processing time and resolution of cases. The Asia Foundation affirmed said findings in its report in 2016 showing that there is a significant improvement on the reduction in the duration of criminal proceedings with improvements in the compliance of trial courts on the timeline and periods set in the Rules of Court and laws.
It is one of Chief Justice Sereno’s advocacies to speed up the course of criminal proceedings in all Philippine courts and to support the efficient implementation of Justice on Wheels project. The Continuous Trials is just one among the several revolutionary initiatives introduced in the Philippine justice system to expedite trial proceedings which include the implementation of the Judicial Affidavit Rule in 2012 and the electronic court or eCourt program in 2013 that improved the case management and docket disposition among designated eCourts. The Hustisyeah project was also launched in 2013 with pilot courts in Quezon City which is a court decongestion program that deploys case decongestion officers nationwide to help reduce the dockets among 460 beneficiary courts.
Considering the noble purpose of the Continuous Trial to give life to the spirit of the Constitutional rights of an accused for a speedy trial, this soon to be implemented system on speedy justice provides a comforting welcome among the members of the judiciary and all its stakeholders. However, there are challenges that the justice system needs to address for the efficient implementation of the Continuous Trial system which includes filling up vacant position of judges in different courts and the subjective appreciation of judges on what is reasonable in ruling on motion for postponements as among many others.