Fast and slow, judicial reality bites

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    EVEN without the COVID-19 pandemic, the courts in the Philippines are already saddled with too many cases — moving, pending, and dormant — that Filipinos have become inured to the reality that the dispensation of justice here is exceedingly slow. But sometimes, rapidly.

    Depending on the kind of case being handled, court personnel can very well speed up processing of documents, or deliberately slow it down. The case of a retired policeman living in Caloocan City and now owner-operator of a van-for-hire business is classic example of an ordinary citizen’s misadventures with the courts.

    ‘This happens to many individuals and in many places in the country.’

    Rolando Morato’s van was hired by a candidate in Navotas City during the 2019 elections for logistics support, specifically to ferry volunteers to their designated assignments. On election day, Rolando Sopera, a driver of the Navotas City LGU, was caught by residents allegedly buying votes, and transported by the van to the Tangos barangay hall for filing of a barangay complaint. Months later, Morato found himself facing charges of kidnapping and robbery, with Sopera as the complainant. Of course, Morato denied the allegation as he was only an owner/driver of the van for hire that was rented during the incident in question.

    While Morato’s case was downgraded to serious illegal detention, he was arrested at 5 p.m. last Feb. 4 and had to wait for the next day to pay the bail. The Office of the Clerk of Court (OCC) won’t issue him an Order of Payment, a basic requisite for posting bail bond. The Order of Payment was released only after 2 p.m., the cut-off period for Landbank to accept payment for bail bond. Left with no recourse, Morato’s lawyers were forced to engage in an online transaction with Landbank, transferring funds equivalent to his bail, but which the OCC refused to acknowledge saying they can no longer verify the transaction as the bank is already closed. Thus, Morato was forced to spend the weekend inside the detention center.

    Come Monday, Morato’s release was further delayed after the OCC refused to give him his release papers citing various reasons. Much later when he stepped out of the detention center, he was directed to appear before the judge’s sala for his arraignment. He was not even given the chance to confer with his lawyers to plan for his legal defense. Fortunately, Morato’s lawyer was able to move to reset his arraignment, which was approved by the judge.

    Morato’s ordeal with the Navotas police and court seems to suggest that his difficulties are too deliberate as to be coincidental. This happens to many individuals and in many places in the country. These incidents drive home the point that in the Philippines, judicial reality bites, and how.

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