Reforming Criminal Justice: The Reality of Philippine Criminal Justice System
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Justice is for everyone. Justice for everyone! Reforming Criminal Justice…..

The presumption “justice is for everyone” turns to be a calling, “justice for everyone,” because of a criminal justice system characterized by racial profiling, police brutality, overcriminalization, mass incarceration, and recidivism.

In the United States, incarceration and racial injustices are rampant, at the same time, the most injurious measure of their justice system. According to the statistics of the Equal Justice Initiative, the U.S. incarcerates its citizens more than any other country. Mass incarceration disproportionately impacts the poor and people of color.1 Thus, there is a vocal desire of criminal justice reform.

In the Philippines, there is a different reality. The legal and justice system is branded with notoriously slow and under-resourced judicial system, chronic delays and systemic inefficiency in litigating crimes,2 clogged court system, and overcrowded jails. Now, is there really a need for a criminal justice reform in the Philippines to serve justice for everyone?

What is criminal justice?

Criminal justice is an umbrella term that refers to the laws,3 procedures,4 institutions, and policies at play before, during, and after the commission of a crime.5 It ultimately covers all the aspects of criminal justice system. It is also known as the administration of justice, described as a process by which the legal framework and structure of a government is executed.

Criminal justice seeks to dissuade future crimes by imposing penalties for criminal acts, as well as to rehabilitate criminals. It is a system that delivers “justice” by punishment commensurate with the crime.  Indeed, the Philippine penal system stands in middle between classicists and positivists, thereby, following the imprint of eclectic theory, where the imposition of penalty is for retribution and reformation.

Overtime, criminal justice evolves. The modern society is now built on a social contract that governments are responsible for maintaining order in their jurisdictions. Similarly, the Philippines, as a sovereign state, shall maintain order and administration of justice.

The Philippines embody the spirit of criminal justice by focusing on two basic ideas: the accused, convicted offenders, and victims all have rights, and crimes should be tried and punished in line with the law.

The Philippine Government has organized and established institutions which serve to maintain peace and order. These institutions are responsible for preventing crimes, enforcement of laws, and apprehension and prosecution of those who violate the same. If the courts of law find them guilty of committing a crime, they shall be confined in order for those people to be rehabilitated and to be reintegrated into the community as law abiding citizens.6

Why is Criminal Justice important?

Criminal Justice is important in a sense that it provides justice for all, as it punishes and rehabilitates criminals. Because of criminal justice, we feel a sense of security with, and in, our community.

We can go to work safely, we can go to the mall without fear of getting robbed, and we can walk in the streets without fear of getting assaulted. In short, we feel safe because of criminal justice. We are aware that those who transgressed the laws are, and can be, incarcerated between the thick and humongous walls of justice.

Such incarceration, however, is used to reform the individuals who breached the law. They are held in prison not to be completely banished from society but to rehabilitate them and correct their transgressions.

After serving the sentence or such rehabilitation, they will now be released and will be given a second chance to live like normal people, who will respect the laws and the institutions.  If they remain unpunished, society is just tolerating such behaviors, and it will be like more or less an encouragement for them to continue violating the laws.

What is criminal justice reform?

Racial profiling, police brutality, overcriminalization, mass imprisonment, and recidivism are all systemic flaws in criminal justice system that must be addressed by criminal justice reform. It tries to enhance our existing and defective (perceived) criminal justice system, in which high-profile offenders can easily avoid punishment or receive preferential treatment, an abusive police force that treats prisoners like slaves, and a corrupt institution that tolerates such behavior.

As crime rates continue to escalate, criminal justice reform seeks to provide a competent and reliable system in which the society will rely on its stability. It deals not only with improving the penal institution but also entails a responsible police force, and a fair and inclusive treatment for all persons deprived of liberty.

Why is criminal justice reform important?

Criminal Justice reform is important because laws are made by men given the existing conditions when laws were enacted. It might be that the law by itself may have conflicts with other laws or lapses within itself.

Also, said statutes may not cover certain situations which have recently developed considering the changes in times like technology, how people think, behave and act, the new modes of committing crimes, and additional enacted laws.

The world is ever evolving. Hence, criminal justice must adopt to it, through criminal justice reforms, to ensure that the following are achieved:

  1. Justice is still delivered to those who have been accused of committing crimes;
  2. Meaningful sentences are being issued out;
  3. Improved rehabilitation programs for offenders;
  4. Other crimes are prevented;
  5. Repeat offenders and runaway incarceration costs are reduced;
  6. Address structural issues in criminal justice systems such as police brutality and overcriminalization;
  7. Moral support for victims are provided – overall improving public safety;
  8. Measures are in place to ensure that the system is cost-effective, fairer, and smarter, while enhancing the ability of law enforcement to keep our communities safe.

Overall, criminal justice reform is important in order to keep maintaining public order and safety throughout changing times.

Is criminal justice system important in our country?

Criminal justice system is geared towards delivering justice for everyone. This means protecting everyone, convicting criminals, and providing a fair judicial process in accomplishing these goals. Ultimately, the system keeps our citizens safe.

In the Judiciary Annual Report for CY 2021, there are 8,391 pending cases as of December 31, 2020. 3,975 cases were disposed during the year, showing that there were 4,416 from prior years which remain pending as of December 31, 2021.7

From the Crime Statistics at a Glance report published by the Senate of the Philippines in its website,8 the monthly crime rate in 2012 was 18.9. This means that for every 100,000 people, there were around 18 incidents of crime every month. Considering the total population of the Philippines in 2012 is 98,032,317, we can conclude that there was approximately a total of 222,337 reported crimes in the Philippines in 2012.

These statistics compel the importance of criminal justice system in our country to ensure that justice is delivered for everyone. Hence, criminal justice system is important in the Philippines.

What is the importance of criminal justice system in the Philippines?

If significant focus is devoted to the current state of the criminal justice system, the guarantees provided by the Constitution such as: the right to life, liberty, and property; free access to courts and adequate legal assistance; the right to be informed; the right to counsel; the presumption of innocence; and the right to a speedy trial, will remain but melodious words.

Nonetheless, the assurances under the basic law are predicated on the idea that the State provides every person with the resources to assert and exercise these rights and make them effective.

How do you perceive the criminal justice in the Philippines?

The Philippines is currently facing a grave threat to its weak democracy and rule of law institutions. So far, the government response has been marked by inaction and a lack of adequate direction over the police, justice department, and army, which have invariably exacerbated the situation by acting in interests other than that of the public.

The administration must now counteract these steps in the right direction by demonstrating that it has the will and willingness to implement the required changes to clean up the rot in its criminal justice system and wipe the name of impunity from its face.

Do we need to reform the Criminal Justice and how?

The criminal justice system in the Philippines is perceived not only as flawed, but also rotten. Obviously, it is imperfect, like any other criminal justice system in the world. However, what makes our justice system different?

It is because of impunity. Ever wonder why only the drug-pushers and users, and not the drug lords, are the victims of extrajudicial killings? And when they get lucky, they are not dead, and they are the only ones in jail? Perpetrators of killings, abusers, and rapists, especially if they have enough influence and power, do get away easily with the law. That is unfortunately the sad reality and the realization that our criminal justice system may have been perceived as rotten.

So the question is, do we need to reform it and how?

Clearly, the answer is yes. As to how, it is not easy.

First, we need to get rid of this impunity. Impunity has been instilled in the minds of everyone since time immemorial that it is not that all surprising if someone powerful commits a crime then gets away with it. If we want a reform in our criminal justice system, we need to be fair to everyone. We need to uphold the speedy, impartial, and public trial that is given to us by our Constitution.

Second, will be a reform in litigating crimes. The pandemic has not only slowed down even more the already notoriously slow deliverance of justice. It also resulted in overcrowded prison cells because of the delays and reschedules of hearings in courts.

But even before the pandemic happened, plenty of cases are already pending before the courts. Some of the detention prisoners even go so far as already serving their supposed penalty but have not gotten their day in court. Our judiciary, in this regard, is responsible for upholding the right to speedy trial of the accused, they should not delay the trial arbitrarily and indefinitely.

Third, will be a reform in criminal investigation. It is also stated in our Constitution that we have the right against unreasonable searches and seizures. For the past few years, with the War on Drugs being one of the priorities of the previous administration, some police officers were involved in the extra-judicial killings, torture, and abuse of ‘suspects’ to confess their crime. Our Police, in this regard, need to handle criminal investigations in an unbiased manner.

Fourth, will be a reform in victim and witness protection. It is undeniable that victims and even their witnesses have had threats on their lives after coming forward and speaking up. Those who seek protection are afraid for their lives, some of them even end up dead. Thus, it makes people wonder if the police protection is only available to the rich and powerful and has connections.

Take the SUV driver who ran over a security guard as an example. If we want a fair criminal justice system, it starts with a protection for everyone. We need a guarantee that these victims and witnesses are protected. Inasmuch as we uphold the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” of the accused, victims and witnesses also need protection in seeking their truth and justice.

There is no such thing as a perfect criminal justice system.9 After all, the quantum of evidence essentially needed to convict or acquit an accused is proof beyond reasonable doubt. This means proof that requires moral certainty. But while it is true, every accused should have his day in court. The opportunity to be heard and to produce evidence on his own behalf are rights given to him for his own protection.

Having all of this said, while the Philippines is compliant in this, it is also perceived that our justice system may have operated and leaned in favor of the rich, influential, and powerful. It does not matter if innocent or guilty, the speedy and ‘impartial’ trial is afforded mostly in their favor. That is why there is a need for reform in order for ordinary Filipinos to also obtain their truth and justice.

Does imprisonment reform criminals?

Sentence of imprisonment is a penalty given to the criminals essentially depriving them of their liberty for the purposes of protecting the society against them, against other heinous crimes, and to counter and reduce recidivism.

The question now is does imprisonment reform criminals?

While it is true that imprisonment is not the be-all and end-all of all criminal justice system, the time that criminals spend in prison can deter them of future crimes and rehabilitate or reintegrate them by providing different wellness programs.

In the Philippines, for example, the government is the sole responsible in implementing programs that can help the prisoners to reintegration and rehabilitation – some of them are intervention programs, group counseling, vocational, livelihood, and skills training, and the like.

However, while imprisonment can reform criminals and give them the chance to reintegrate their lives, and a chance for a law-abiding and self-supporting life, the stigma surrounding ex-convicts and prisoners in general is still prevalent in the present society.

Ex-convicts have a hard time starting over again due to societal and workplace stigma. So inasmuch as imprisonment can reform criminals, it is still our duty as a society to give them the opportunity to make their life better during and after serving their sentence and while atoning for the sins they have committed.


The Philippines currently has a weak criminal justice system and is perceived not only as flawed, but also rotten, thus, the calls for a criminal justice reform to address structural issues embodied upon it.

The criminal justice reform is carried out by administering the following actions that affect our justice system:

  1. To get rid of impunity;
  2. To administer reform in the litigation of crimes;
  3. To administer reform in the investigation of crimes;
  4. To administer reform in the victim and witness protection programs; and
  5. To administer reform in the rehabilitation and reintegration programs for the criminals.

Unless these reforms are not in place, structural issues in criminal justice systems such as racial profiling, police brutality, overcriminalization, mass incarceration, and recidivism may never be immediately addressed. Overall, criminal justice reform is important in order to keep maintaining public order and safety throughout changing times.

  1. Equal Justice Initiative, Statistics, 2023[]
  2. Senate of the Philippines, 2019[]
  3. Law, Cornell Law School[]
  4. Procedural Law, Cornell Law School[]
  5. Crime, Cornell Law School[]
  6. Bravo, Philippine Criminal Justice System, pp. 160-162[]
  7. Judiciary Annual Report for CY 2021[]
  8. Crime Statistics at a Glance[]
  9. Are Innocent People Pleading Guilty? A New Report Says Yes[]

RALB Law | RABR & Associates Law Firm

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