De Lima maintains PH justice system is broken, recalls efforts to modernize criminal justice system


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Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima maintained that the Philippine justice system is broken and that no amount of censorship by the courts or anyone else could change such fact.

In her presentation, “Modernizing Criminal Law by Updating Our Approach to Criminal Behavior: Taking the Path of Transformative Justice”, presented by her Deputy Chief-of-Staff, Atty Catherine Sy, during the Sixth Spanish-Filipino Scientific Congress held at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, Quezon City last June 10, De Lima said she believes that none of the necessary and urgent reforms on criminal law have been instituted because of people’s tendency to look at the accused as “no longer fully human and, therefore, are no longer worthy of full respect for their humanity and their rights.”

“Our Criminal Justice System is broken not just in the ‘how’, but also as to ‘why.’  If it were a person, the Criminal Justice System is not only broken in body, it is broken in spirit.  I would go so far as to say that it is lacking a soul.

 “It moves, but never towards anything productive.  It moves just for the sake of being able to say that it moves.  A zombie in the legal world,” she said.

The event, entitled “Sixth Spanish-Filipino Scientific Congress: Modernizing Criminal Law and Private Law,” gathered faculty, scholars, members of the Philippine judiciary and experts from European and Philippine Universities to share knowledge towards modernizing the country’s legal codes.

De Lima’s efforts to modernize the criminal justice system, can be traced back to as early as 2011 when she, as a Justice Secretary, created an inter-agency Criminal Code Committee (CCC) tasked to study, assess and consolidate a simple, updated and modern criminal law to provide clarity in law enforcement and improve administration of justice.

During her presentation, De Lima shared that modernizing the RPC was one of the foremost priority legislative agenda of the DOJ under her leadership to be endorsed to the Senate and House of Representatives. This was eventually filed on 13 August 2013 as House Bill 2300 in the House of Representatives during the 16th Congress by then Congressman Niel C. Tupas, Jr.

When elected Senator, De Lima then filed Senate Bill No. 1227 seeking repeal of the RPC and proposed a measure that would replace it with a Criminal Code of the Philippines to make it responsive and relevant to the country’s criminal justice system.

 The said measure seeks to ordain and institute a new Criminal Code of the Philippines that would modernize, update, and codify the country’s basic penal law.

 “When I became a Senator, I had very, very high hopes that the foundation that we had laid down 5 years prior would evolve and come into fruition within the next six years, especially in light of the fact that I was initially given chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights,” she said.

“I fully expected that my successor as Chairman of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights would have given it due consideration. Unfortunately, we are both at the end of our terms as Senator, and the bill is as far away from becoming a law as it was when it was first filed almost nine years ago,” she added.

 De Lima lamented how the lineup of legislative measures she filed that included efforts to update each of the different pillars of the Criminal Justice System, particularly the Criminal Investigation Bill, Modernizing the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Bill and the Comprehensive Prison Reform and Unified Jail System Bill, were also not prioritized.

 “None of my initiatives were given the prioritization I strongly felt they deserved, especially given the so-called ‘War on Drugs’, which just worsened the odds for ordinary Filipinos who find themselves in conflict with the law. To say that I am utterly disappointed with the lack of progress in the efforts to modernize our criminal law system is to understate the problem,” she said.

The lady Senator from Bicol believes that the real first step to truly solving the problems relating to modernizing the country’s criminal law system is to “commit ourselves to see these real ills and want to resolve them.”

De Lima further said that her experience of being unjustly detained for the last five years has given her a perspective that is rare in history: “that of an advocate and defender, turned victim, turned survivor, turned reformist.”

“Being shown how the wheel of justice operates from all possible sides, I can say that we have to approach criminal laws from a more inquisitive perspective, i.e., one that searches for the anatomy of crimes beyond looking at the Motive, the Instrumentality and the Opportunity of each particular incident,” she said.

“Instead, one that starts with one fundamental and, to my mind, game-changing question: What kind of society do we want to live in? And, from there, asking what should be done to bring us closer to that aspirational society,” she added. (30)

Access the full text of Senator De Lima’s presentation during the “Sixth Spanish-Filipino Scientific Congress: Modernizing Criminal Law and Private Law”, here:

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