Justice Enhancement and Empowerment Program (JEEP)
Justice dictates that the punishment should fit the crime. But in the real world, justice is not efficiently carried out. Take the case of the farmer in Sarangani who remained a detainee for 13 years for stealing a carabao and a cheap loaf of bread. The injustice of his plight is so glaring especially when personalities accused of graver crimes do not spend even a night in jail.
There are other poor souls in Sarangani’s jail who remain detainees longer than they should because of the slow disposition of their cases. Learning about their plight prompted the provincial government to put in place a program that would hasten the resolution of court cases and reduce jail congestion. Thus, was born the Justice Enhancement and Empowerment Program (JEEP) in 2006.
Armed with the findings, the Sarangani LGU designed JEEP to hasten the disposition of cases involving indigent litigants whose family member remained a detainee in jail because of the slow pace of litigation. JEEP involved the provision of a mobile court dubbed “Justice on Wheels” or JOWs. Essentially, it is a bus that has been reconfigured into a court room so that hearings can be conducted inside it when the bus is deployed to the municipalities. It is the only mobile court with a permanently assigned judge and which has been authorized by the Supreme Court to assist the regional trial court. In 2008, this mobile court was deployed to the municipalities to improve access to indigent litigants and witnesses.
As part of JEEP, an Alternative Dispute Resolution component was institutionalized to encourage litigants to arrive at an amicable settlement instead of elevating their case to a court litigation. A Provincial Mediation Center was established for this purpose. This component is also covered by the Court Annex Mediation (CAM) program of the Supreme Court, which involves court-trained mediators in the settlement of disputes.
Lastly, JEEP also organized Barangay Justice Advocates (BJAs) who would detect and help settle brewing disputes at the community level so that the petty disputes are managed and do not needlessly get elevated to a lengthy trial process. When the program started, 60 percent of the pending cases at the RTC were turned over to JOWs for litigation, considerably de-clogging the docket of the RTC. The JOWs program has conducted hearings for more than a thousand cases since then. As a result, detainees who have practically been serving more lengthy sentences than if they were convicted have been released from jail. JOWs has also halved the number of provincial jail inmates from 600 to 286 as of June 2011and this has also translated into reduced maintenance expenses for the jail.
Meanwhile, 43 percent of cases referred to CAM between 2008 and 2010 were successfully settled through mediation. Needless to say, this reduced the number of cases that were elevated to court litigation.
More importantly, the community leaders who were trained as BJAs have been quite successful in resolving petty conflicts at the family or clan level. More Sarangani residents have also taken legal awareness trainings at the community level and this mechanism has effectively reduced the cases that get elevated to the Barangay Court and Trial Courts.
With so much accomplished in just a few years, the JEEP program indicates that the wheels of justice can spin much faster with the proper impetus. Sarangani’s example also shows that with a little inventiveness, poverty-stricken provinces can still make substantial gains even with very limited resources at their disposal.