Justice on Wheel frees INPJ inmates

LAOAG CITY (7 December) — The Enhanced Justice on Wheels of the Supreme Court on Tuesday has terminated nearly 100 criminal and civil cases that have been pending for many years in various judicial courts in Ilocos Norte, EJOW project officials.

Most cases heard and provisionally dismissed under the mobile court involved those of inmates of the Ilocos Norte Provincial Jail under Jail Warden Bonifacio Tagatac Jr.

Ilocos Norte Judges led by Executive Judge Conrado A. Ragucos joined the EJOW whole-day hearings of the various cases.

The cleared inmates were later freed and could now timely spend their Christmas  with their families and relatives.

Deputy Court Administrator Nimfa Cuesta-Vilches, vice chair of the EJOW, said it was the first occasion that the Justice on Wheels bus rolled into the provincial jail ground in Laoag and also served as the last stop of the mobile court for 2010.

The mobile court has gone to Ilocos Sur, La Union, Baguio, Cagayan and Isabela for the Northern Luzon leg.

“The cases were pre-screened. We can calendar hearings from 50 to 100 cases and dispose of them in two to three hours,” she said.

Vilches said parties with pending cases are 95 percent assured of being set free if they go through the mobile court.

“We do not set cases for conviction or for presentation of evidence. All can be decided quickly by the judges,” she added.

Records show that some cases have been pending from 10 to 15 years while one case dates back 1972 for grave coercion.

Lawyer Edward Ulep, counsel in the  aforesaid criminal case, said his client was in his early 20s when he was arraigned for grave coercion. He was provisionally released at that time through a property bond.

he case was later archived in 1994 and has been pending since.

Ulep’s client who is now in his early 60s had his case revived and dismissed under the mobile court.

Vilches said the mobile court concept is not merely to transfer the hearings from the court rooms to the bus.

“We help the judges choose cases that are set for termination. There’s no more need for long, drawn-out hearings that normally happen in court rooms,” she said.

The cases heard by the mobile court involved accused who have spent jail time that is longer than their maximum penalties if they would have been convicted.

Vilches noted that an accused who is found guilty of an offense that requires only six years imprisonment should be released if he has spent 10 years behind bars.

“If you set the case for hearing today and the accused is found guilty, he or she should be set free because he had already languished in jail more than the time (that the law set),” she added.