'Justice denied': Only 1 prosecutor in Ormoc since 2013
ORMOC CITY, Philippines – Lawyers have sounded the alarm that complaints are piling up at the city court and two regional trial courts here because the national government has not appointed fiscals or prosecutors in the last two years.
The Occidental Leyte Bar Association (OLBA) noted that the Office of the President, which knows about the lack of prosecutors in the Eastern Visayas city, announced new appointments for other local courts but not for Ormoc's.
Lawyer Joy Mejia Romero, president of OLBA, said said that the lack of government prosecutors does not only affect the lawyers but delays the delivery of justice.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” she quoted an old adage.
She said they are doubly desperate because the deadline for appointment of permanent employees, like government prosecutors, is nearing.
Meanwhile, an estimated 1,600 cases are pending in the courts here, while more than 400 inmates at the City Jail and Sub-Provincial Jail suffer under subhuman conditions at facilities built for half their number.
The city prosecutor’s office here is a one-man act, with only City Prosecutor Marcelo Oñate handling all the cases since 2013.
After his two assistants became judges in 2013, no replacements have been appointed.
Not that there is a lack of applicants, Oñate said in an interview. He had endorsed applicants to the Department of Justice. One was Lorna Obus Pades, whose possible appointment was overtaken when she was named municipal trial court judge of Isabel, Leyte.
Romero said they gathered information that two appointments have been pending in the Office of the President for a year now, but no action has been taken on them. These are for an Attorney Cahig and and Attorney Pedrosa.
The situation in the city has led to clogged-up court dockets and congested jails, said Oñate.
Currently, there are 440 cases pending at the city court, and an estimated 1,200 cases between the two regional trial courts.
There are also more than 300 inmates at the City Jail, and more than 100 at the city sub-provincial jail, facilities that were designed to only hold half the numbers.
Aside from resolving inquests and ordinary cases filed at his office, Oñate said he also has to appear in the court hearings.
Nonetheless, he was proud to note that even if their office averages receiving 500 complaints a year, only 27 remained unresolved as of December 2015.
Lawyers concede that Oñate is hardworking, but they are worried the situation was taking a toll on his health.
In his Facebook post on January 24, Oñate said he was, “still hoping that the City Prosecution Office of Ormoc City can get new assistant city prosecutors by February, after almost three years of vacancy. I am left 'Home Alone' in the Office as vacancies in the OCP for Prosecutors II and I are never filled up.”
He is also thankful for the assistance of the Regional Prosecutor’s Office for temporarily detailing provincial assistant prosecutors Melissa Macapugas to assist him in the City Court, and Erwin James Fabriga to assist him with regional trial court cases.
In his Facebook post, he thanks the two for prosecuting city cases “without additional compensation since 2013 with the highest degree of professionalism and efficiency.”
However, Oñate said that Macapugas and Fabriga, whose main job is to prosecute in municipal trial courts, could only do so much. As a result, they have to calendar the cases they handle in the city 6 months apart.
“Malooy ta sa mga litigants,” he said. (We pity the litigants.)
There are also the inmates, some who might be leading lives outside of the jail by now, if only their cases moved fast.
Oñate said two more batches of prosecutors’ appointments are expected to be issued by Malacañang in the first week of February. He hopes there would be two for Ormoc.
Romero said that OLBA, an aggrupation of lawyers practicing in the city and the western part of Leyte, has brought “the lamentable state of affairs that is beleaguering the Office of the City Prosecutor of Ormoc City” to the Office of the President in May 2015.
In the letter, OLBA stated that according to “information that we were able to gather,” there are already appointments to fill the vacancies but have not been signed by the President.
In a letter to Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr, with copy furnished to the Department of Justice, the OLBA appealed to President Benigno Aquino III to help “reinvigorate the ability of the (prosecutor’s) office to perform its duties.”
They said that City Prosecutor Oñate, “required to investigate myriad of criminal cases filed before its office and to prosecute, as well those pending with the three trial courts of Ormoc City…is proving to be too arduous and overwhelming a task to be borne by one prosecutor alone as the office could no longer cope with the demands of its work. Thus, such inability has resulted in delays in the litigation proceedings before the courts of Ormoc City and in the increase of backlog of its cases.” – Rappler.com