As the Philippine judiciary continues to battle with hundreds of thousands of cases pending before it, the Supreme Court of the Philippines through the Justice Reform Initiatives Support (JURIS) Project promotes the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms to help de-clog the court dockets.Latest figures show that while there are 702,147 pending cases in the country, excluding those at the Supreme Court level, there are only 1,453 judges who can review and act on them. A Philippine judge therefore handles an average of almost 500 cases, the number of which continues to increase with about 50,000 new cases filed each year.
“These challenges only further strengthen the need to look for alternative resolutions in handling disputes”, Atty. Hector Soliman, JURIS Project Director told reporters during a recent press briefing. Funded by the Canadian International Development Agency and Chaired by the Honorable Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, Reynato Puno, the JURIS Project revolutionized court case settlement across the country through ADR mechanisms such as Court-Annexed Mediation (CAM) and Judicial Dispute Resolution (JDR).
CAM is an enhanced pre-trial procedure that involves settling cases with the assistance of mediator, an authorized officer of the court who helps parties identify issues and develop a proposal to resolve disputes. If a settlement cannot be reached through CAM, the case is brought back to the court for JDR process which requires a judge to become a mediator.
Atty. Soliman shared that since the inception of the JURIS Project in 2003, it has helped eased the burden of 5 pilot trial courts by resolving almost 7,000 cases using ADR mechanisms. This meant affording the judges more time to hear other complicated cases.
The success of the mechanism employed by JURIS in its pilot sites has created a demand for ADR services in adjacent areas. Late last year, Judicial Dispute Resolution has also been introduced in the trial courts in Makati City.
“What’s also interesting is that the project has contributed to efforts to change the mindset of the poor and marginalized groups, who often avoid legal matters due to sky-high cost of litigation and their perception that the law favors the rich and educated. Seeing the success rate of ADR, marginalized sectors have gained hope that they too can have access to justice,” shared Atty. Soliman.
Based on a study, 76% affirmed that ADR contributed to the ordinary citizens’ and the marginalized sectors’ access to justice. Sixty-nine percent (69%) thinks that there is fairness and justice in the mediation process, while 59% says there is fairness and justice in the mediation outcome.
Aside from the ADR mechanisms, the JURIS Project has two other components, namely: (1) Judicial Education and (2) Reform Advocacy Support which seeks to empower the poor to make use of judicial and quasi-judicial services.
The implementing agencies of the JURIS Project are the Supreme Court of the Philippines – Program Management Office (SC-PMO); Philippine Judicial Academy (PHILJA); Office of the Court Administrator (OCA); and Alternative Law Groups, Inc. (ALG).
Looking at the Glass Half-Empty
The official ADR figures presented during the media briefing today, 2 July 2008, reveal positive results. More than half (57.43%), on average, of the accepted cases for mediation in the pilot sites have been settled. For the JURIS sites, the figure is lesser, with an average of only 39.42% settled cases. There is no doubt that ADR greatly helps in reducing the caseload of courts. There is also no doubt that for the settled cases, ADR reduces the litigation expenses expected to be incurred by both parties in a full-blown trial. Besides, one side loses if the court renders a decision, but ADR provides for a win-win solution.
There is, however, an opposing view in every discussion (you could express your views through the comment section below). Referring a case to mediation means at least a month of delay should the mediation process be unsuccessful (more than half in the JURIS sites). At least 2 or 3 settings are needed for the mediation process, with another lag time until the mediator’s report reaches the court. If the litigants would want their lawyers to attend the mediation, which is often the case, the litigants would have to pay for appearance fees, which is on top of the mediation fee. Litigants cannot “opt out” of mediation because this is mandatory under the existing rules.
This brings us to the study that “76% affirmed that ADR contributed to the ordinary citizens’ and the marginalized sectors’ access to justice.” If we consider the added appearance fees for lawyers during the mediation process and the mediation fee, the entire mediation process is actually more expensive, at least for the 60% of the cases in the JURIS sites. This, coupled with the higher filing fees, makes an interesting debate as to how the ADR improves access to justice.
Looking at the Glass Half-Full
We should be looking at the glass half-full. To be sure, ADR has its benefits. We discussed ADR back in law school (under Dean Marvic Leonen’s Civil Procedure class), way before the ADR became the subject of a law. I already believed the merits of ADR even then, and I would want it to succeed. However, this does not mean that we close our eyes as to why the glass is half-empty. Otherwise, mediation and the entire ADR mechanism would be another hurdle in achieving a faster and less expensive justice system.