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Ganto, Sarah Rose

Mercado, Hilary Faye


Portes, Mikee Angelu
Ramos, Mary Louise
LEGAL PROFESSION IA Atty. Cervantes-Poco

As our final requirement for our Legal Profession course, we were tasked to visit
certain facilities in predetermined areas to gain exposure as to how law is practiced and how
justice is administered in the Philippines. Our group was assigned to RTC Mandaluyong.

RTC Mandaluyong is located at Old City Hall Building, Maysilo Circle,


Mandaluyong City. It houses 7 branches, Br. 208-214, with 7 RTC judges.

We were lucky to have interviewed the presiding judge of RTC Mandaluyong Branch
214, Judge Imelda Portes-Saulog. She graduated from the College of Law in the Ateneo de
Manila University. She was appointed as a prosecutor way back in 1992 in Makati, and
served the Prosecution Office for almost 22 years. In March 2012, she was appointed as RTC
Judge in Mandaluyong.

She is in the Family Court and she handles cases like nullity of marriage, special
proceedings cases and everything about Family. She also handles criminal cases involving
minors.
We visited on a Wednesday and the first time we saw the building, there were hints of
construction going on because of the wooden pillars placed outside the main doors. We
werent even sure at first if it was the RTC we were looking for because from outside, it
looked like a worn-out church. What gave it away was the logo we found on the top part of
the building and that was what helped confirmed that it was the court we were looking for.
Once we entered the main gate, a staff welcomed us and led us into their court and sala. But
before we entered branch 214, we observed that the halls of the building were a bit tightly
spaced because there were boxes of papers stacked together on one side of the corridor.
Outside the doors of the branches were benches where people patiently waited including the
lawyers who would be involved in the hearings. The halls had a humid atmosphere and we
could see the people were fanning themselves with whatever they could find just to make
themselves comfortable.

The court itself was rather spacious and had decent airconditioning. The area where
the judge would walk around had a carpeted floor and even the walls, chairs, and other
furnitures looked freshly repainted. We were asked to walk in quietly because a trial had
already started. We even felt a bit embarrassed because we stopped by Pan de Manila to buy
a few pieces of pandesal because not one of us had breakfast and by the time we entered the
courtroom, some of us were still chewing and so we had to swallow fast to avoid any more
humiliation. We were able to watch three hearings: the first was a case about a maid who
accidentally hit her alagas head on the door frame and was consequently charged by her amo
with physical injuries; the second case was about a minor who we initially thought was a rape
case, but it turned out that she claimed to only be touched inappropriately from her waist up
while she was sleeping and looking after their familys canteen. We were actually alarmed at
one point of this trial because while the counsel was asking questions, the minor looked down
and started crying. Even before the second trial started, Judge Portes-Saulong asked her if she
was okay to come up without the presence of her mother beside her and she said it was okay.
By the time she already cried, she was already asking to come back to her mother and so the
judge had to postpone the hearing for another date. The mother of the child was sitting behind
us so we could really hear her wails about not wanting to go through with the case anymore
because she already feels violated and pressured by all the circumstances. The third was a
criminal case that already had delayed hearings and even if the court was a family court, they
still handled such criminal cases that were due even before the court became a family court.
During the hearings, there were moments when we observed that the judge looked
incredulous to what the witnesses or the defenses would say, while there were other times
when she would somewhat scold the translator for not translating properly and she would
have to call him out just to do his job. We were also amazed at the speed of writing the
stenographer had, and every time the judge would ask the stenographer to back read, the
latter would be really able to say verbatim what the witnesses or defenses had said. At first
we tried taking pictures of the hearings but we were told (practically scolded) that taking
pictures werent allowed. However, we were eventually able to catch a few seconds of video
footage that helped us to have a more in-depth reporting of our finals presentation. We also
observed that they had a strict time schedule for the hearings that led us to realize that it was
the reason why they could have three hearings already in only one hour.

After the third hearing, the judge invited us over to her chamber and generously
offered lunch while going through with the interview. There was a tense atmosphere at first
because it was our first time to be that close to a judge and her professionalism was still
evident but eventually the conversation grew out to be casual and relaxed. She shared a brief
history of the trial court she was handling and the experiences she had while being an Ateneo
law student. She also gave us some tips on how to survive law school and encouraged us that
we can definitely make it through Ateneo law if we just study hard enough.

The transcript of our interview can be seen below:

Q: How is justice done in the Philippines?


Judge: Relatively, justice in the Philippines has improved. There are several rules and
regulations that is being implemented, in order to monitor the cases being filed in court. It has
improved in terms on how it has been disposed. There are no aging cases unlike before.

Q: How long is the resetting of the hearing?

Judge: If the accused were a detention prisoner, the resetting would not be more than a
month at the maximum. In other cases, there are so many factors being considered with
regard to the resetting of cases. It would depend on the availability of schedules of the
counsel representing the litigant.

Q: What do you think are the challenges to the effective access of justice?

Judge: For poor litigants, if counsels who would represent them would really not that focus
on their case. However, I would not say that the Public Attorneys Office is missing out their
responsibilities. But, human as they are, and due to the voluminous cases they are handling
sometimes they cannot anymore focus on representing a litigant. So it is a challenge to the
PAO to be keener in representing. On the part of the prosecutor they should likewise be
keener in handling cases. They should take time to systematize the handling of the cases in
representing the state.

Q: Can you quantify the number of cases?

Judge: In my sala, I have pending active case of 430 and in my civil, I think only have 98
which includes special proceedings, and nullity of cases.

Q: Have you experienced that was dismissed because of rules of court but you think are
substantial?

Judge: Yes, just provisional dismissal. Based on technicalities like failure of the prosecution
to prosecute the case because there are no available witnesses. Like on several hearing dates,
the prosecution cannot represent the witness, the defense would invoke the right of the
accused to the constitutional right of speedy trial, the court would be constrained to dismiss
the case.

Q: Do you thing all the cases are properly handled?

Judge: We have monthly reporting, where we monitor the cases that are pending before us
and we submitted to the Supreme court monthly. In that way, the court can be vigilant over
pending cases. Aside from that, every 6 months, in January and July, we have an inventory on
cases pending before us. In the inventory, we would also know the motions for
reconsideration that are pending. There are no chance that we would miss something because
we have a twice a month inventory and monthly reporting to the Supreme Court.

Q: Can you talk about the facilities of this court? How does it aid you in rendering proper
justice?

Judge: In my court as you can see, I have a very nice court and I see to it that I have a stock
room. I have also a place where I can safely place the evidence presented in court. I have a
staff room where my staff could work efficiently with their own computers, and with air-
conditioning units. I have a good chamber where I could make my decision. Overall, Luckily
I have a good court and large enough to accommodate.

Q: What can you say about the facilities of the other RTCs?

Judge: I think you have to see it yourself. But we now have a building being constructed to
house the judiciary. This will be done by the first month of next year 2015. It is constructed
with the effort of the Local Government- Congressman. Gonzales.

Q: Do you think justice is being served at the end of the day?

Judge: The Supreme Court is trying its best in order to remedy the situation wherein people
are saying that justice is not being served in the shortest time to who it is due. In my sala, I
have been trying my best to speed up the flow of a cases because that is what is expected of
us but there are so many factors that could hamper the speedy trial of a case. But, if at the end
of the day, you are doing your best and there are certain things that could hamper it, deep in
your heart you have done justice because you can only do so much. In the Philippines
there are so many obstacle that could impede in the flow of the case. Like here in
Mandaluyong, we have several cases but we only have 7 RTC judges. However, 4 courts will
be open soon for the RTC.

Q: What do you think is needed to improve the justice system in the Philippines?

Judge: I think what has to be done is the physical improvement, they have to increase the
budget and they should not anymore question the what they called DAP in the Judiciary.
Actually, it does not come from the people, but this came from filing fees and this is being
appropriated for the physical condition of the courts. With the vision of the chief justice to
improve the system there must be a budget for that. In coordination with the local
government to support the justice system within their jurisdiction, the courts shall be
increased depending on the cases coming. A judge is only a human being, and we can only do
so much. It is not a reason that because youre a judge you have to finish everything. They
have to consider that it is not a simple ministerial act. We think, we reason out, we
research. It is a very tough job. They should likewise study on how much a judge can take.

Q: What advice can you give to future lawyers like us?

Judge: Study very very very hard. Bare in mind that you are throwing 4 years of your life
just for studying that means to be a law student in ateneo. You are not going to do anything
but study, but reserve Saturday night for gimmick because if not, you will go crazy. Sunday
night go back to studying.

Q: What is your advice to aspiring lawyers who want to be a judge?

Judge: I would advice for you to practice law.


She then proudly gave a small tour of her chamber and showed her own personal
touches such as having the interiors designed with wallpapers and carpets and most of which
came out from her own money. Her dining table was even made of glass and she even had a
small couch near the dining area. She said that being part of the family court, it was important
for her to have a small comfortable space because there were some cases when minors,
especially those under the age of 10, would not be able to handle the pressure of being in the
courtroom so she would pose a casual conversation with them in her chamber instead. It was
in those cases when the children, who would now feel more relaxed in the quaint sala, would
be more comfortable in opening up what they know about the case theyre involved in. She
admitted that children are very sensitive especially when it comes to criminal cases which is
why it is important for family courts to make the children feel at ease so they could also help
with the cases. Even her personal bathroom made it feel like she was just in the comforts of
her own home because of the modern design of her shower room and toilet. She even had a
small area for meditation and relaxation which included a small couch where she said she
would sometimes doze off for a few minutes just to get her energy rebooted. She said that
truthfully, being a judge is a stressful job and it would be more stressful to come in to a
chamber and court that is somewhat dull that is why she invested a lot of money to have her
court designed. True, she also requested the mayor of the city to help finance her designing
but she said that the local government can only do and provide for so much which is why any
extras she wished would already come out from her own pocket. She even had a new
computer on her table and told us that she would also have faster internet connection set up in
a few days. She also showed us her book case where we saw familiar law books that we,
ourselves are using in our first year but the only difference was, her collection already
showed signs of tearing down. She even shared that she uses Atty. Mel Sta. Marias Persons
and Family Relations book as it is easy to understand and for her, very important especially
since shes a judge of a family court. That is when we realized that although the law books we
were required to purchase were expensive, in the end, theyll be a great investment for the
future when we would need them again for any back reading. Even Judge Portes-Saulog said
that she could not remember every single statute which is why she would need to consult her
law books every now and then.

She then showed us the connecting room to her chamber which was where her staffs
were assigned. In this room, we could see the cubicles of her assistants, the stenographer, and
the translator. Piles and piles of papers were the first things to be seen but once the judge
opened the door however, what really strike us the most was that even though there were a lot
of paper works to be done and many cases were assigned, the people working behind those
papers still managed to smile even if it was already past noon and almost 6 cases were
already heard. That is when we saw a hint of passion for the law which is what we should
emulate because in the end, it is really the passion for public service that is important.

Once we were done with the interview and the tour, the judge asked one of her staff to
show us the other branches of the RTC and it was there when we realized the discrepancy of
amenities and facilities between branches. Even the touring staff told us that we were lucky to
have been assigned to a fully furnished and designed branch unlike the other branches that
looked simple and monotonous. Other branches were cramped and had no room divisions
between the staff room, the court, and the chamber of the judge. One of the branches was so
tightly spaced that the staff could not fully open the door because of the stack of papers
placed behind it. Only enough space could be opened for a single person to enter that room.
We could not even enter the room but we were able to take a peek and see that the immediate
area after the entrance was the staff room and a few more steps after that was already the
court area. It was really different compared Branch 214, the branch that we were assigned to.
Another branch had a somewhat similar floor area but its interior wasnt modernly designed
or even repainted. Some parts of paint on the wall were already tearing down and the
furniture had faded colors of paint, showing its being timeworn. Still, the tour gave us fresh
new insights about how the justice system of the Philippines goes through with their hearings
and how many are really involved and needed in order for justice to be served as soon as
possible in the country.
Reflections

This experience has led us to many realizations. First and foremost, efficient justice is
subjective. We hear critics and common people bashing the Filipino justice system for being
inefficient. In some ways, this remains true despite the changing times. Several cases remain
pending for years, or several guilty offenders are acquitted for failure to establish the required
degree of evidence in order to prosecute. However, courts are continuously striving toward a
better justice system. We may not see it personally because what we see from the outside are
the countless cases wherein justice has been withheld. Let us take for example the number of
unsolved enforced disappearance cases for the past decade. Its heartbreaking to hear/read
about the tortured victims, and more so when we take into consideration the fact that enforced
disappearance is a crime perpetrated by the state, usually the AFP, for a political agenda. In
Jonas Burgos case, some of the perpetrators were identified as AFP officials with high
positions, but they were not prosecuted for lack of evidence. However, taking into
consideration the courts point of view, there are rules and regulations to be followed.
Efficient justice includes abiding by these rules. When it comes to prosecuting an accused in
a criminal case, for example, the required quantum of proof is proof beyond reasonable
doubt. If this degree of proof is not sufficiently established, then justice as well as the court
rules and regulations compel the judge to acquit the accused.

Witnessing firsthand how justice is administered was a truly inspiring experience. We


watched trials involving acts of lasciviousness, murder, etc. We learned that courts should
handle cases on a case-to-case basis. Thus, its important to handle sensitive cases (such as
those involving rape and acts of lasciviousness) by taking into consideration the trauma and
vulnerability of the offended parties. For cases involving family disputes, courts try to resolve
to other less drastic measures first such as mediation among the parties, keeping in mind that
the Filipino justice system favors the upholding of the family. Its also important for judges to
remain impartial in their judgments. We sometimes hear about corrupt judges who accept
bribes under the table in order to make a ruling in favor of one party. However, this is
precisely one of the big factors that impair the justice system in the Philippines. Money is
simply money. But a biased ruling on the part of the judge will forever reflect on the parties
involved; it can lead to acquittal of a guilty party, or an exceedingly unfair conviction. The
court cannot easily reverse its ruling, and the first and foremost consideration should be the
redress of transgressions against the law which directly affect certain parties.

Most of the time, people are hostile against Philippine courts and the justice system as
a whole because of the fact that it takes years for cases to be resolved. Other cases are even
left unresolved and buried in peoples memories forever. So we ask, is Justice really being
served in the Philippines? Do people get indemnified from the injustices that they have
experienced? According to Judge Saulog, as long as shes doing her best to speed up the flow
of cases, deep in her heart, she has done justice because she can only do so much. This made
me realize, that courts are not the only ones to be blamed in the slow disposition of justice in
the Philippines. Considering RTC Mandaluyong, only 7 courts are housed which handle a
considerable volume of cases every single day. The inadequacy of courts and facilities
hamper the speedy trial of cases. This is where the blame to the Philippine government comes
in. The insufficiency of budget allocated to the justice system makes it difficult for court
personnel to function as expected of them. Ultimately, even the ordinary people should get a
fair share of the blame. Weve noted from the interview that even the smallest, pettiest of
issues are brought to courts for resolution, when in fact, it could be resolved on their own
through compromises or mere forgiveness. Our point is, if only these people are raised to be
more understanding and more forgiving, less reactive and less tempered, they wouldnt have
to seek for courts help to resolve their own issues. With this, the court can then focus on
more serious and more important cases. At the end of the day, justice isnt just found on
courts. Its found in every ones hearts with acceptance, understanding and compromise.

At the end of the day, we left the venue feeling fulfilled and motivated to pursue the
law degree. Its a wonderful feeling to witness justice being carried out, and we can only
imagine how much more fulfilling it would be when the time comes that we get to administer
justice firsthand. Like the judge said, the law degree is indeed hard. It consumes all of your
time, it leaves you exhausted to do anything else, and it involves a lot of sacrifices. However,
if youre passionate about it, about helping others especially those who are normally deprived
of justice in this society (i.e. the poor), about improving the Filipino justice system by taking
part in it, then everything will be worth it. Like we stated above, justice is subjective. But
with rules and regulations, laws, and human rights to be followed, its safe to say that
everyone can sufficiently agree to a certain extent about what efficient justice is. For us, its
making sure that guilty offenders are convicted with the penalty they deserve. Its decreasing,
and hopefully one day totally eliminating, human rights violations and other offenses. Its
making sure that all parties in a trial are represented with competent legal counsel to fight for
their cause. Its faithfully abiding by the rules and regulations established by the courts, as
well as the laws.