MANILA, Philippines – The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all aspects of life in the Philippines, including legal proceedings.
This has meant that proper access to justice has become even more strained particularly for Persons Deprived of Liberty. “I feel fear and anxiety especially as a single mother. I’m always worried about my only child who’s living outside,” said Jenelyn Bueza, who's at a detention facility as her case is processed by the court.
“The pandemic has made it difficult for my family to visit me in person,” Ms. Bueza said. “I was also worried I would not be able to speak to my lawyer especially when I had a scheduled hearing,” she added.
Ms. Bueza is only one of many. Due to the limited movement of people during the pandemic, Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDLs) have struggled to stay in touch not only with their families but also with their legal counsel. There was also a fear that cases will be delayed even further because of the lockdown in the jails due to the pandemic.
In response to this, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) rolled out the e-Dalaw program to enable PDLs to communicate with their families and lawyers through online video calls amid quarantine measures in the country. The Supreme Court also adopted remote hearings or videoconferencing hearings to ensure that cases proceed amid the pandemic.
With funding support from the European Union, GOJUST provided 120 multimedia tablets to support the e-Dalaw program and to allow PDLs to attend court hearings through videoconferencing in selected areas.
“It brings me so much happiness to speak with my family,” said Ms. Bueza. “I am also able to discuss with my lawyer usually a day before my hearing when I have a concern about my case,” she added.
GOJUST supported the further roll-out of videoconferencing hearings during the COVID pandemic, providing 70 laptops to the courts to facilitate hearings, and 30 tablets to the Bureau of Corrections to enable hearings, support eDalaw and parole hearings.
The impact of the video conferencing equipment is already observable by government partners.
“We have several PDLs who had posted bail... and other forms of release [because] the tablets aided us to fast track our transactions with the Courts,” said Mark D. Aranduque, Jail Officer 1, at the Metro Bacolod District Jail facility.
“We were [also] able to accommodate [PDLs in] a large number as scheduled for the eDalaw purposes,” he added. The expansion and increased use of the video conferencing system has therefore had an immediate beneficial impact on the lives of individual PDLs whose cases have been processed faster and whose communication with their loved ones as well as with their lawyers has become more frequent.
“Despite the pandemic, my case has been able to progress because of the videoconferencing of the hearings,” said Ms. Bueza. Following the increased focus on online processing of cases as a result of the Covid pandemic, GOJUST will continue its support to PDLs by rolling out a videoconferencing room for Persons Deprived of Liberty.