Strengthening the Justice System in the Grassroots
Court litigations are costly. This is why the poor lament that justice works only for the rich. With the advent of the Barangay Justice Service System in Cebu City, the poor now have a venue to address their grievances at no cost at all.
In July 27, 2003, the Lupong Tagapamayapa (Peace Council) from 80 barangays of Cebu City organized themselves and elected their first set of officers. They called themselves the Liga Ng Mga Lupong Tagapamayapa of Cebu City (or League of Peace Councils of Cebu City). They were the first to incorporate a federation into a nonstock, non-profit organization. They set out to implement the program dubbed, “Strengthening Justice System in the Grassroots.” The beneficiaries of the program are the Lupons and the barangay residents.
The program envisions peaceful and progressive communities brought about by competent Lupons who help community members resolve conflicts amicably and dispense justice in a professional way. The peace councils undertook pulong-pulongs (discussion groups), trainings, cross-visitations, experiential sessions, and benchmarking. By doing so, they were able to assess and develop the know-how and competence of the Lupons, impart appropriate values, train the Lupons in alternative dispute resolutions, and generate funds to support and sustain plans and programs.
The efforts of the league produced 47 accredited trainers. The seminar-workshops conducted among clustered barangays in different sessions made the Lupons more knowledgeable about Katarungang Pambarangay (Barangay Justice) and developed their competence and skills in mediation.
In the past, the summons issued by Lupons to the parties in a conflict often went ignored. This changed after the pulong-pulongs that were conducted in the sitios in the barangay resulted in better awareness among the residents. After that, the Lupons began reporting a 100% attendance among those summoned.
Judiciary statistics reveal that the government is able to save PhP10,000.00 for every case settled at the barangay level. The competence of the Lupons in settling disputes through conciliation resulted in the decreasing number of cases filed in court dockets. Between 2004 to 2006, the Lupons managed to resolve six out of 10 cases that they handled. In 2004, out of the 11,895 cases filed, 7,286 were resolved. In 2005, the Lupons successfully mediated 7,220 cases out of the 11,568 filed. And in 2006, out of the 13,600 cases filed, 8,541 were settled by the Lupons.
Lupon members are now recognized as persons in authority and have gained the people’s trust and respect because of their professionalism, intelligence and impartiality in settling disputes. Litigants no longer hesitate to submit themselves to the Lupons and accept the advice or decision handed down by the Lupon members.
In addition, the community is also collectively involved in conflict resolution activities in the barangays.
They now determine the procedures and processes entailed in settling conflicts and negotiating solutions and compromises.
The Liga’s Constitution and By-Laws ensure both the sustainability of the programs and projects as well as the smooth transfer of power and responsibilities from the present set of officers to the newly elected set of officers. Since the Barangay Justice System is supposed to be implemented in all the country’s barangays, other LGU’s should have no problem replicating the example set by Cebu City. With a working barangay justice system in place, many communities could end up more harmonious and peaceful than they are today. And this could only augur well for a country surmounted with files of court cases barely moving and that can easily be resolved through the grassroots justice system exemplified in Cebu City.