The Supreme Court, through its Enhanced Justice on Wheels project, has paved the way for the release of 80 prisoners in La Union and Benguet on Thursday after their cases were terminated inside two buses converted into mobile courts.
Chief Justice Teresita J. Leonardo de Castro supervised the proceedings for the termination of cases of the prisoners. The SC staff headed by Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez and the trial court judges in the two provinces conducted the speedy resolution of their cases.
EJOW, which was launched in 2004, targets poor prisoners whose cases range from as petty as vagrancy and domestic problems to the more serious cases of homicide or murder in places where there are lack of judges or where the jails are congested.
Marquez said the EJOW in La Union was held in Agoo last Thursday, while in Benguet, it was conducted at the provincial capitol in La Trinidad yesterday.
According to Marquez, simultaneous hearings were held inside the two EJOW buses by trial court judges in the two provinces. Those qualified for release were ordered freed from detention.
On top of speedy disposition of cases, EJOW brings with it mobile court-annexed mediation (MCAM), free legal aid, information dissemination about the rights of marginalized sectors, medical and dental mission, and dialogue with judges and court personnel.
The Court Administrator explained that these additional components prompted the SC to rename the then Justice on Wheels to the now EJOW.
Under the jail decongestion component of EJOW, criminal cases are heard with dispatch inside the custom-built bus, also known as the mobile court.
It begins with the inventory of dockets of different courts and depending on the result of the inventory and upon the assessment of the EJOW Committee, a mobile court bus is deployed to a particular locality.
With the immediate resolution of the cases, some detention prisoners are released, thereby decongesting not only the courts’ docket but also the cramped jails in the country.
Under the MCAM component, mediators from the Philippine Mediation Center assist the parties to settle their differences and arrive at amicable settlement.
In its information dissemination component, lectures are given to barangay officials and members of the police force on varying topics, such as Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children, Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, Agrarian Reform Law, Environmental Law, Land Registration Law, Barangay Protection Order, etc.
The Philippine Judicial Academy, the educational arm of the judiciary, provides the lecturers for these topics, while the local government units concerned usually provide the venue.
The purpose of the information dissemination is to educate those who will be in first contact with prospective litigants in courts.
The dialogue is being conducted to obtain firsthand information about problems and grievances of lower court employees and, ultimately, find solutions to address these problems.
A medical and dental mission is also being provided under the EJoW program, while the free legal assistance component is being undertaken with the assistance from local chapters of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and representatives of the Public Attorney’s Office of the Department of Justice.
The first mobile court travelled Metro Manila roads in 2004 for the SC’s 23-day pilot run covering several youth reception centers, juvenile detention facilities and jails.
The fully air-conditioned EJOW bus has two main sections -- the front section which serves as the courtroom and the rear section which serves as the mediation room.
The EJOW is provided with a presiding judge, a clerk of court, a prosecutor, a public attorney, a court stenographer, a docket clerk, a process server, a driver, and a security guard.