Since 2005, a campaign has been launched calling for the establishment of a Jury System in the Philippines. Principal proponent of the campaign is the Philippine Jury Campaign International (PhilJury, UK), one of the three organizations based in the United Kingdom urging for change in our judicial system.
PhilJury argues the need to have a Jury System in the Philippines since justice seems to favor the rich who can afford more competent lawyers and possibly influence the outcome of the trial. Their claim is that the present
judicial system is wrong as there is only a single judge who is corruptible and not all knowing and all seeing. This leaves those who are poor at the losing end, unable to get justice at all. Another reason cited is the need to create an efficient and transparent judiciary process. A Jury System will allegedly prevent delays, discourage corruption and miscarriage of justice. The identities of the Jurors are kept secret for their protection against bribery and coercion. This campaign for a Philippine Jury System has intensified recently in the spate of extrajudicial killings (EJK). Apologists for the EJK maintain that it is the most efficient way to rid our society of criminals and scalawags, especially drug pushers who victimize our innocent countrymen. Since “Justice delayed is Justice denied”, EJK, which is swift and instant, is justified. Due process and the rule of law are set aside allegedly for the greater good.
According to Amy Balilao, executive director of PhilJury UK, a Jury System “will show that legal justice is not just for the rich and powerful, but is equal and attainable for all Filipinos” (http://www.psst.ph). The Jury System is a judicial process where a group of ordinary people are called by law to secretly investigate and decide serious and criminal cases brought to trial. It operates on the principle that one has the right to judge and be judged by his own peers or equals.
The proposed Jury System shall consist of two separate types—“the Grand Jury” and the “Trial Jury”—with powers to decide independently from government control. The proposed Grand Jury shall serve as the voice of the people. It will be composed of 23 ordinary citizens/college graduates to be called jurors, who are chosen by lottery. They remain anonymous and shall serve for just six months. They have 45 days to decide with a fixed majority rule and by secret ballot if a probable cause exists. They will be formed in cities, provinces and regions for every 200,000 registered voters. As in our present criminal justice system, preliminary investigation is still done by the police, National Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Internal Revenue, Ombudsman and other government agencies. But in the proposed Philippine Jury System, it is the Grand Jury (not the Fiscal or Judge), which secretly investigates and decides if there is probable cause. If there is, the Grand Jury charges the suspect in court, where it then goes to a trial jury, which decides the case. The Trial Jury will be composed of 12 ordinary citizens, at least 21 years old, of average intelligence, who are randomly selected from the electoral register to participate in deciding the guilt or innocence of the accused in serious criminal cases. Their decision is final. The presiding judge does not participate in the decision-making. He is limited to enforce order in the court, rule on the admissibility of evidence, educate the Jurors on the laws involved in the case and their demeanor/duties as Jurors and sentences the accused if found guilty.
Under the proposed Jury System, grand jurors shall be paid double the minimum wage and trial jurors paid minimum wage.
PhilJury UK argues that our “slow legal system, with each case taking an average of six weeks (actually six months to six years from my personal experience) is due to a “one-man judge” per case. The Jury System, on the other hand, requires only approximately six days for each case, and even less for simple litigation. PhilJury UK claims that Trial-by-Jury is the legal standard for several countries, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. The Jury System allegedly will improve the quality of legal justice in the Philippines by creating a more efficient and transparent judiciary process, reducing risks of delays,
corruption and miscarriage of justice.
I am against the Jury System for the Philippines, for now, at least. We are not ready for it, for obvious reasons. The first is culture. Filipinos have a tendency to be swayed by emotion. Because of this, we cannot be expected to give a rational and logical decision on matters, like serious cases and crimes. The media is partly to blame in influencing minds of viewers. Usually, it is the victim’s side that is highlighted with emotion and drama. The accused is already found guilty even before the trial starts or the complaint is filed. This is mind-conditioning trial by publicity. Also, since the proposed Jury System will pick jurors by lottery from a list of 200,000 registered voters in the community, it is highly improbable for a Juror not to be related to the accused or the other party by consanguinity, affinity, or the kumpadre system (e.g., binyag, kasal, kumpirma, kaklase, kagolf, kabarilan). Objectivity can hardly be expected in such a situation.
There is also a logical and financial aspect that augurs against the Jury System. This would mean reconfiguring existing courtrooms (which can hardly fit the judge, litigants, lawyers, witnesses and court records). With 12 trial jurors, no existing courtroom is big enough. How can the jurors expect to remain “anonymous” in such a small space. Also, the jurors need to be sequestered somewhere secure. They have to be billeted, fed and cared for and isolated from family, friends, relatives and, especially, the media (the traditional press and social media)—which means no cell phones. The ordinary Filipino will die without a cell phone. There is also the matter of allowances and per diems. Our Judiciary purportedly get the lowest salary in the region compared to their counterparts. Under the Jury System, the cost will be unthinkable considering the number of cases and number of jurors per case.
No court case has a definite “ending” date. The case ends when it ends. UK- based proponents of the Jury System are of the mistaken belief that a case can be decided in six days. Maybe in the UK—but certainly not here—even under a Jury System. So the budget to maintain and compensate Jurors is not finite. On an operational level, the disposition of cases will be even more delayed by the jury selection process—initial selection from the voter rolls, prequalifying eligible candidates (citizenship, language, disabilities, etc.) summonses to those qualified for Jury duty, “voir dire” by the lawyers on the case, back up or replacement jurors if the selected are disqualified or refuse to serve, etc. To administer (and administrate) a Jury System, it needs a highly coordinated and well-financed framework to select and operate the Jurors to serve their duties. If a juror refuses to serve, there is the issue of whether the Juror can be penalized by fine, imprisonment or both, in the discretion of the court. Where do we jail these jurors? Our prisons are already so congested—hardened criminals are mixed with minor offenders. Prisoners take turns sleeping on the floor—some sleep standing up for lack of floor space.
Furthermore, the Jury System is not perfect—it can also be prone to corruption. The Jury System does not guarantee fairness if the wrong people are chosen and they are already corrupted or are corruptible by reason of relationship, poverty, bias, prejudice, etc.
The court just cannot pick 12 people from the list chosen by lottery then proceed with legal battles. Ordinary citizens (which is the only requirement) should be educated about the legal process, how it is carried out, the roles and expectations of a juror, how to appreciate facts and discern truth. Given these factors, among others, the Philippines is not yet ready to have a Jury System. Unless Filipinos can be socially and politically mature, capable of making rational decisions instead of being ruled by publicity or sentiment, display a sense of honesty, righteousness and integrity, appreciate the meaning of the rule of law, the Jury System will not happen in this country.
There must be a better solution to extrajudicial killings.