A speedy trial is not something to be taken for granted, but here in the Philippines, it is regrettably something that only the very few can even afford. For the majority of people here, the judicial process drags on like a death march--the hearings delayed for months or years at a time. Prisoners can be kept for years on end, even if their complicity in a crime was not proven true. Often, it's easier to plea guilty to receive a lesser sentence than to sustain further years waiting for the process to go on.
Prisoners aren't the only ones waiting for release. Their spouses, parents, siblings, or children wait on the other side of the bars--their lives also drastically affected. Despite knowing that progress could be minuscule, families of prisoners put forth their best efforts to attend--if only just to find enough hope to last them until the next hearing.
The following is an example of the absurd judicial circus that I am talking about. After two years behind bars, one inmate saw a childhood friend who was working as a jail guard. He explained how he was arrested for a petty offense, but had yet to receive a verdict. Being familiar with the judicial proceedings, his friend helped him get a hearing in which he pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to two weeks imprisonment. Despite already spending two years in jail, authorities forced him to serve his two-week sentence before releasing him.
Other cases are even more perverse. A young friend of mine, named Anthony, was picked up when he was sixteen as a suspect in a case, and was taken to a detention center for youth. He is now twenty-one, and still waiting in the same center. He has never received a verdict. In wanting to learn more about Anthony’s case, I decided to attend one of his hearings.
I traveled three hours by bus, three hours by ferry, and another hour by van to attend the hearing. I wasn’t alone. Anthony’s father left early in the morning to buy a small gift for his son who he would get to see at the trial. Anthony’s brother asked off of work from his new job in order to attend. The lawyer arrived with all the necessary documents prepared and organized neatly in his briefcase. Others involved in the case, both directly and indirectly, began filling the justice hall as well, each one gripped by the same eerie restlessness that filled the courthouse; each one hoping for at least an ounce of better news.
Postponed. The judge had pushed the hearing to a later date without any prior notice. The one who is supposed to epitomize what is fair and right in society is not only withholding justice from a minor, but did not even have the courtesy to inform anyone about it. What was even more sickening was how the players were all too familiar with this scene. It was the fourth time this case had been postponed. Families huddled together, speaking softly of their disappointment, and then broke off returning to their lives. They could do nothing; they can’t afford to.
The judge does not care about the people he is supposed to be helping. The very system designed for delivering justice is withholding it. The case continues to trudge on the same way it has been for years. Anthony is no longer the minor he was when he was picked up; almost a quarter of his life has now been spent in a detention center because a judge prefers to postpone justice. It has bent Anthony’s life in a way that will need fixing, but it is hard to heal when the wound is still being carved.
Proverbs 13:12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
As if the prisons were not already difficult to endure--with incredible overcrowding and unsanitary conditions--what happens to the heart of people like Anthony as they wait, just for the announcement of a verdict that allows them to count down the days of their holding?
Slow justice is no justice.
By Clark Miller
South East Asia, The Philippines