By: Kaya Guillen
The Iloilo Provincial Prosecutor’s Office (IPPO) is plagued by fatigued prosecutors and heavy docket backlogs.
It only has 14 prosecutors instead of the ideal 24 needed for the smooth grinding of justice.
Iloilo Provincial Prosecutor Ma. Elena Hofileña-Gerochi said they have been suffering from manpower lack for a decade already.
“May mga appointments man kami, pero may gaguwa man [sa office]. Ang iban nangin judge and ang iban ga-retire. May ga-replace pero very few. For the past 10 years siguro, very undermanned kami,” Hofileña-Gerochi said.
Currently, the 14 prosecutors work through cases filed with the 25 Regional Trial Courts (RTC), 14 Municipal Circuit Trial Courts (MCTC), and six Municipal Trial Courts (MTC).
Gerochi said 14 prosecutors are not enough for the workload from 45 courts.
“The workload is overwhelming, and the prosecutors are overworked and totally stressed out. Our health is suffering. Most of us are sick or what we call, under the weather because of the unbearable workload. So, stretched to the limits na kami. The quality of service is low, and output is low. Morale is also low,” she added.
Republic Act No. 10071 (Prosecution Service Act of 2010) mandates that there should be two prosecutors for every RTC branch, one for MTCC branch, and one for every two MTC or MCTC branches.
The 24 prosecutorial posts for Iloilo Province is also stated in the same law. Since then, several new courts have been added to the province of Iloilo.
The Prosecution Service Act also stipulates that whenever new courts are added, the number of prosecutor posts in an office will also increase. But this is not the case in Iloilo Province where the number of prosecutorial posts was stuck with 24.
This forces current prosecutors to cover four or five courts, instead of one or two as mandated by law, Gerochi said.
She added that because they oversee the province of Iloilo, their prosecutors travel as far as 120km from the office to attend hearings.
“When you are exhausted after mo hearing te hearing mo damo-damo, pagkapuli mo sa hapon, you are too exhausted to drive. You would rather not bring your car. Even if you travel three times a week lang, that takes a toll on your body,” she said when asked if prosecutors commute or travel using their cars.
Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Ronel Sustituya said that in a week, he travels to four different courts because he is in charge of RTC Branch 36 located at the Iloilo Hall of Justice, RTC Branch 66 in Barotac Viejo town, the Oton MTC, and San Miguel MCTC.
Sustituya said that if he were to handle only one court, for example Branch 66, he can finish his case assignments more efficiently.
“Te galing paano ko na ka hearing everyday kay taga Huwebes lang ko to ma hearing. Ngaa man? Kay kun Lunes, didto naman ko sa Oton. Kun Martes, didto naman ko sa RTC Branch 36, sa drugs [court]. Kun Miyerkules, didto naman ko sa San Miguel. Kun Biyernes, ma duty naman ko di. Therefore, Huwebes lang ko to maka-hearing nga kun tani everyday na sya. Te kun every day, taga adlaw may apat ka lang nga mabuhin, maubos gid na ya ang kaso. Te by the time nga pag-abot mo to, may na pile naman kami nga damo kay tungod nga kulang (prosecutors),” Sustituya explained.
Aside from affecting their efficiency, the lack of prosecutors also affects the quality of work, Gerochi said.
“Kay when we resolve, indi na namon mahatagan resolution. Mag hearing kami, we cannot even meet our witnesses anymore. We meet the witnesses in court, during hearing and during presentation,” she added.
Gerochi said that prosecutors are unable to meet witnesses for cases to discuss what they are supposed to say in hearings beforehand because of pending duties such as inquests and hearings in other courts.
This is concerning because most of their clients are indigent and do not have the money to for a private attorney, she explained.
“It’s not because the prosecutors are lazing or unskilled but because they are overworked. They are just so tired. Amo lang gid na ya,” Gerochi pointed out.
Sustituya expressed frustration at the current situation.
“At the end of the day, silutan ako sini. Although gin-show mo ang goodness mo, ang tanan mo nga effort, pero silutan ka gid na, ngaa haw? Kay may backlog ka, may mga delay ka. Although it is impractical nga matapos mo siya. Makita mo man kami da kanday boss. Wala kami absent. Ara man kami. […] So kami tanan amo man na amon nga [wish] sa mind, nga maubos ni namon. Indi man maubos gali ah. No amount of effort nga maubos.”
Gerochi said she lobbied for adding additional prosecutor positions in their office.
“I went to Manila but I was turned down by the personnel department of DOJ because they said DBM will not fund additional [prosecutor positions] because our existing [prosecutor positions are] not filled up. What can we do about that?” she said.
Currently, the DOJ has placed the Iloilo Provincial Prosecutor’s Office under the GOJUST program to help decongest its case backlogs.
“This is implemented on selected prosecution offices. Other prosecutors from other offices help us. Iloilo City only helps us in appearing in court. But other offices like Bacolod, Aklan, Roxas, Capiz, other provinces in Region 6 are helping us in resolving the backlog of cases pending in our office,” Gerochi explained.
Gerochi, however, believes that this is only a band-aid solution because without the addition of new prosecutors, new cases will add to their backlog.
Kaya Guillen is a 2nd year student of Communications and Media Studies at UP Visayas-Miagao. This report is part of their requirements in CMS 131 (News Reporting) under Dr. Zoilo Andrada