“[Restorative justice] is a very radical idea. Binabasag nito ang nakasanayan na sistema na ang pagkulong ay punishment. Na ang solusyon sa krimen at krimenalidad ay ang pagpaparusa sa mga taong nakalabag dito,” said Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care (CBCP ECPPC) national coordinator Gerry Bernabe.
(Restorative justice is a very radical idea. It challenges the long withstanding system of imprisonment as punishment; that criminal offenders must be punished for their crimes through imprisonment.)
The Center for Liberalism and Democracy, together with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom Philippines, Association of Law Students of the Philippines (ASLP), UP Law Student Government, and Coalition on Death Penalty, organized an online forum to talk about the current state of the penal system in the Philippines and discuss concrete ways to reform it, April 21.
Joined by experts and advocates, the forum shed light on the importance of integrity and dignity in the country’s prison and correctional system and put forward action plans on how to better enact the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights in 1948.
Assessing the problem
Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) NCR coordinator Atty. Ted Te presented the legal basis that contributed to the slow judicial process and overcrowding of penitentiary and correctional facilities in the Philippines. He highlighted the need to revisit, review, and revise the Penal Code.
“We need to start by recognizing that the Penal Code is a very old law written in 1930. While there have been amendments across the years in various parts of the Penal Code, the idea of having one set of laws dealing with criminal law is defeated by the reality that we do not have just one set of laws,” Atty. Te explained.
Gerry then affirmed this by sharing the plight of prisoners in the Philippines. He pointed out that through their work in CBCP ECPPC, they were able to witness and hear first hand stories of prisoners who cannot afford legal counsel, prisoners who have to wait too long for their trial, or prisoners not receiving humane treatment inside correctional facilities.
In addition to the outdated Penal Code, the panel also agreed that the lack of judicial officers and personnel hampen justice.
Focusing on accountability
Commission on Human Rights commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit emphasized that the core of restorative justice is active accountability.
“It was also crystal clear to me that we have to be able to unpack what ‘accountability’ means and for whom, who exacts accountability, and who actually serves accountability. The concept of active accountability versus accountability in adversarial concepts is something I really greatly appreciate,’ Comm. Gomez-Dumpit expounded.
Zeroing in on accountability means building on a human rights-based approach to justice. Its goal is to rehabilitate and reform people deprived of liberty to reintegrate them into society.
However, ASLP national president Alexis Vien Regala noted that pushing for restorative and constructive justice would require a paradigm shift and holistic approach, “If we are to push forward with restorative justice, to push forward for victims, offenders, and the communities — to communicate what happened and how to heal — then, we need to be able to teach people about this. We need to go to the grassroots and teach people what it really means and how we can move forward with this.”
To close the discussion, Atty. Te emphasized, “The roadmap to constructive and restorative justice must start with a vision that allows that direction, that roadmap to be set.” He added that in doing so, at the very least, the oath taken by new lawyers must be revised to include the terms justice, rights, dignity, and equality.
The discussion was moderated by UP College of Law student Joshua Rafael Jimenez.
Watch the forum here.