Home » Articles » Quezon attacks the law’s delay, September 30, 1939

Quezon attacks the law’s delay, September 30, 1939

Quezon attacks the law’s delay


By Juan Collas

September 30, 1939–WHAT is wrong with the administration of justice in the Philippines? Why is there so much delay, mostly unnecessary, in terminating cases, even those of a criminal nature? Why is a poor man accused of a crime quickly sentenced, generally convicted, while it takes a mighty long time to try and convict a rich man? Is there one law for the rich and another for the poor in spite of the insistent claims of social justice and the oft-repeated maxim, now derided by many, that there is equality before the law?

Guest of honor and principal speakers at a banquet given at the Manila Hotel by those who passed the bar examination in 1914, President Quezon propounded some of these disturbing questions last week. He has been outspoken, sometimes explosive, in his criticism of antiquated court rules and “sixteenth century” judges. As the fitting subject of an impressive impoverished address, he expatriated on the law’s delay.

Among those present were distinguished members of the bench and bar, including Chief Justice Ramon Avanceña and former Associate Justice Claro M. Recto. The President criticized a few recent decisions in which justice seems to have been “wrecked on the rocks of technicalism” and the court’s inability or unwillingness to divorce itself from lavish adherence to the letter of the law.

Legal Technicalities

Dr. Carlos P. Romulo, publisher of the DMHM string of newspapers, described the speech as “one of the most thought-provoking addresses ever made by the Filipino national leader.”

It is high time, President Quezon is quoted as having remarked, that legal tradition be infused with the breath of life, the life of today, that the courts be guided by a living and not a dead legal philosophy, and that laws be interpreted not with the rigidity of dogma but with the force of the spirit.

Statutory construction or interpretation, he held, should be made in accordance with modern social progress. The interest of the nation, the welfare of the people, is or should be paramount to all the technicalities of the law.

He said he was speaking not as President of the Philippines, but as a mere Juan de la Cruz, and as a mere Juan de la Cruz he had noticed that despite the high standard of the present administration of justice in the Islands, still there are certain legal technicalities that leave the ordinary man puzzled and confused. The average citizens does not understand, for instance, why some crimes cannot be decided by the courts of justice for months; why a person who is known to have been committed a felony can have his trial postponed time and again until weeks lengthen into months, simply because of technicalities adroitly taken advantage of by legal luminaries. Another thing that bewilders the common tao is: How does it happen that rich defendants, who can employ astute lawyers, can circumvent the law while those who cannot afford to hire expensive counsel go to jail without much ado?

The philosophy of the times, the Chief Executive was reported as saying, demands that the courts of justice taken into consideration present-day conditions, the prevailing social doctrines. In this he is ably supported by a jurist who declared that “the law is dead unless ‘it works,’ and it will not work unless and until it is adjusted to the material and psychical conditions of society in which it is to operate.”

“Move With the Times”

President Quezon took occasion to remind his audience that the world is in constant flux; that, although justice is eternal, yet laws are mutable and even one’s sense of justice changes; and that, if they are to continue to deserve the confidence of the people, the courts must move onward with the times, must adjust themselves to the changing social order.

In other words, they must not allow themselves to be shackled by tradition, by inflexible rules that impede the course of progress. It does not necessarily follow, he said, that what was sacrosanct formerly is sacrosanct today. For instance, he cited, the sanctity of contracts is no longer respected when such contracts violate human rights, since human rights are and should always be above property rights.

To the President the remedy lies in substantially altering and improving the present rules of procedure and in impressing upon members of the bar the fact that they are officers of the court and that as such it is their duty to help the court in the speedy administration of justice. Judges and auxiliary judges of first instance, judges of municipal courts, and justices of the peace are required under the Revised Administrative Code to certify before they can draw their salaries “that all…civil and criminal cases which have been under submission for decision…for a period of 90 days have been…decided on or before the making of the certificate…”

Largely blamed for court delays are practising attorneys who, sometimes in the mistaken idea of protecting their clients by prolonging the agony of suspense and incidentally squeezing a fatter fee, resort to dilatory tactics, demurrers, continuances and postponements, in short, all schemes and contrivances that the law permits. Thus cases of murder which ordinarily take a few days to hear and decide in England and at most a few weeks in the United States, are permitted here to drag on for months and sometimes years because of technicalities which lawyers invariably invoke.

Root Causes of Delay

So many are the causes of delay, in the opinion of an authority on legal matters, that he could write “volumes on them.” Some much causes he attributes to the ignorance of some practitioners, to the laziness or indulgence of certain judges who allow counsel to do as they please.

Another recognized authority says almost in confirmation that the root causes or “main factors” making for delay are the judge, the lawyer and the procedural law. Speaking of the law, he mentioned the demurrer one big source of delay. An attorney, for instance, may interpose a demurrer even if he has no valid grounds at all, just to gain time. The rules of court grant 10 days for an answer or demurrer, after the accused has made his appearance, which takes from 20 to 40 days depending on whether he is in Manila or in the provinces. After that he has five days within which to answer, in case he demurred unsuccessfully.

One of the worst causes of delay is the so-called summary examination, as provided for in Philippine criminal procedure, together with the preliminary investigation prescribed by Acts 194, 1450, and 1627. No doubt the object of the law is good—but like many other good things, it has been spoiled by constant abuse. Explains Justice Mariano A. Albert, of the court of appeals, an authority on criminal law and procedure in the Philippines:

“The right not to be forced to trial for a felony on the complaint of a private citizen without conducting a sort of preliminary inquiry…is one of those fundamental rights which the Anglo-Saxon system of jurisprudence has always recognized. To this end a preliminary investigation has been provided by law, the object of which is to ascertain if a crime has been committed, and if so, whether there is sufficient evidence to give probable cause for believing that the person accused is guilty of the crime… Its purpose is not only to determine the amount of bail to be given by the accused in case he is held for trial, but also to secure the innocent against hasty, malicious, and oppressive prosecutions, and to protect him from an open and public accusation of crime, from the trouble, expense, and anxiety of a public trial, and also to protect the government from useless and expensive trials.”

Preliminary Hearings

How this law hampers or is made to hamper and delay prosecution is explained by Solicitor General Roman Ozaeta, who says that even in case of murder, homicide, and other serious crimes, to investigate which is one of the principal duties of the provincial fiscal, the justice of the peace must conduct his preliminary hearing or inquiry. In Manila the preliminary hearing is conducted by the fiscal, who can afterward take the case right to court. The situation in the provinces is different.

“Even after the fiscal has conducted a thorough investigation and is satisfied that he has a fool-proof case,” comments Solicitor General Ozaeta, “still he has to undergo the formality of having the justice of the peace of the municipality where the case arose, conduct a preliminary investigation, make an express finding that there is a prima facie case against the accused, and certify this to the court of first instance where the fiscal has to renew his information or querella.”

The supreme absurdity of the preliminary investigation is that the findings of the investigating justice of the peace do not bind the fiscal. In other words, if the accused or prisoner is discharged by the justice of the peace he may again be arrested and examined, because the fiscal can brush aside the judgment of the investigator as was painfully shown in the recent case of Consorcia de los Reyes.

Resenting the “censure” upon the bar, a lawyer charged that not only are the lawyers to blame, but also the executive department which wields the appointing power. Men of mediocre ability, he pointed out, are being named to the bench. Their knowledge of English or Spanish is so limited that sometimes they are unable to give the law a clear and reasonable interpretation. As a result, cases are appealed.

One of the most sacred duties any man can be given to discharge is that of providing justice in the courts. It requires a high standard of mental and moral attributes. How then, when such are lacking, can it be expected that justice will be served?

What is most interesting to note is that, due in large measure to the aforecited causes of delay, by the end of December, 1938, the courts of first instance of the Philippines had 22,141 pending cases, while the court of appeals had 2,433. Only the supreme court has succeeded in cleaning its docket.

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1 Comment

  1. R. Velasquez says:

    Great article. It was indeed a different time. Note that Bribery/corruption was not mentioned as one of the causes of judicial delays. Today, it is almost always one of the reasons for judicial delays.

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