82 prisoners in La Union, Benguet freed via ‘justice on wheels’

MANILA � A total of 82 prisoners in the provinces of La Union and Benguet have been released from jail under the Supreme Court's (SC) Enhanced Justice on Wheels (EJOW) project.

Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez said 51 inmates were freed in Benguet on Friday as a result of simultaneous hearings conducted by the court during EJOW while 31 inmates were released in Agoo, La Union on Thursday.

Marquez said simultaneous hearings were held inside the two EJOW buses by trial court judges in the two provinces.

The fully air-conditioned EJOW bus has two main sections -- the front section that serves as the courtroom and the rear section that serves as the mediation room.

It 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.

Launched in 2004, the target of EJOW, then called Justice on Wheels, are poor prisoners whose cases range from vagrancy and domestic problems to homicide or murder in places where there is a lack of judges or where jails are congested.

On top of the 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 missions, and dialogues with judges and court personnel.

Marquez said these additional components prompted the SC to rename the Justice on Wheels into 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 prisoners are released, decongesting not only the courts' docket but also the cramped jails in the country.

Under the MCAM component, mediators of the Philippine Mediation Center assist the parties to settle their differences and arrive at an 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, and Barangay Protection Order.

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 the problems and grievances of lower court employees and, ultimately, find solutions to 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 help of local chapters of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and representatives of the Public Attorney's Office of the Department of Justice.

During its pilot-testing from December 2004 to January 2005, the mobile court was able to hear a total of 754 cases, which resulted in the release of 300 detainees. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency