International Development Law Organization

Postcards from prosecutors: Philippines Department of Justice

10 Sep 2018

Prosecutors play a key role in keeping criminals off the streets. But in the Philippines, day-to-day challenges can significantly hamper their work. A severe shortage of staff has resulted in a heavy workload for existing prosecutors, with individuals spread thinly across multiple courts. Some provinces do not have the most basic resources: computers and printers, and even courtroom and support staff, such as stenographers and translators, are lacking.

“When I was first appointed, there was no training whatsoever. It’s like they said, ‘you’re appointed, now here are the papers, go and appear before the court!’” - Prosecutor

To enter the profession, prosecutors undergo no prior training. They can spend decades learning on the job without receiving any professional development support. IDLO has been working to fill the gap, strengthening prosecutors’ capacity through substantive training and by building a pool of local trainers. After months of collaboration, 19 graduates of IDLO training courses have now used their newly-gained skills to design and conduct the National Prosecution Service’s first course on advanced trial advocacy for senior prosecutors – a milestone in IDLO’s efforts to build sustainable local capacity.

IDLO spoke to seven of the trainers and participants about the role of prosecutors in the Philippines, the challenges they face and how IDLO’s program is making a difference to their work.


I’ve learned a lot during this training, such as cross examination. It is one of the most difficult tasks in prosecution.

Associate Provincial Prosecutor (Zamboanga del Norte), course participant

"I’ve been with the prosecution for almost 10 years, and I handle cases including murder, drugs, crime against property, robbery, theft, misconduct in public office. Because we cover provincial cases we handle far-flung municipalities. One of the challenges of our work is the availability of witnesses. Sometimes they cannot come due to financial constraints, and I’ve had to shell out cash to pay for their fare.

I’ve learned a lot during this training, such as cross examination. It is one of the most difficult tasks in prosecution. Especially for me: I get emotional when someone is lying, and I lose my temper. Now I know how to conduct myself in my daily practice as a prosecutor. The training has really increased and enhanced my knowledge, so I will be more confident facing the judge."


The culture of prosecutors in the Philippines is unlike other parts of the world. Here, prosecutors are more powerful because we determine probable cause.

Senior Assistant State Prosecutor, course trainer

"I have been a prosecutor for more than 24 years. The culture of prosecutors in the Philippines is unlike other parts of the world. Here, prosecutors are more powerful because we determine probable cause. In countries with a jury system it is the judge who will say whether or not a case is fitting for trial.

So that is why prosecutors have a particular ‘culture’. And during the first few days of the training you could see this with the participants. They feel slightly offended if you try to teach them. But I think they were humbled, and the fact that we video-recorded their performance helped. When they saw the videos, they thought “oh my god, this is how I look?”. Otherwise they would have felt like, “oh, I’m good, I’m great”.

Prosecutors in the Philippines don’t receive any training. The last exercise we did in our course was about a rape case and about medical certificates, and they lacked the necessary medical knowledge. Also, cybercrime. My goodness, I have very little knowledge about cybercrime! I do not belong to the millennials; I would say that I am Jurassic when it comes to the computer.

I am so grateful to IDLO for being the only organization which is training and helping prosecutors comprehensively. Then again, you can’t finish training all the prosecutors because there are so many of us."


This training has helped us realize that pre-trial is a significant part of the process because you can terminate the case at an early stage if you manage to elicit admissions from the defense counsel.

Deputy City Prosecutor, course trainer

"I have been with the Department of Justice in my hometown for two years now; previously I was the city’s chief legal counsel. The participants in this course are really ‘expert’ prosecutors because they have been with the Department of Justice for several years. And yet when we ask them to do the activities they still tell us “ma’am, actually I didn’t realize it should be done that way”. 

For example, we tend to neglect the importance of pre-trial. We think oh, it’s just arraignment, because what is critical is the trial itself. But this training has helped us realize that pre-trial is a significant part of the process because you can terminate the case at an early stage if you manage to elicit admissions from the defense counsel. Pre-trial is controversial right now because the Department issued a circular stipulating stricter measures for prosecutors entering into plea bargaining agreements. We are directed to make vigorous objections. You see, the Department of Justice is not on its own; we cooperate with the national government in ensuring that justice is served and that everything is in proper order.

During the discussion here, we notice that there are certain things that even experienced lawyers and prosecutors are not yet familiar with: the examination of expert witnesses, of the defense, the presentation of a child witness, or even the conduct of cross examination itself. This training has provided an avenue for the prosecutors to realize these things and become better at their jobs. So we really appreciate the sponsorship and support from IDLO. I hope we can cover more topics aside from the advanced trial advocacy course, to ensure the competency of all prosecutors in the field and the delivery of prompt justice to constituents."


I’ve learned a lot. You think you are confident enough and have enough knowledge and experience to prosecute cases in court. But then when we joined these trainings, I realized a lot of things I’ve missed.

Provincial Prosecutor (Maguindanao), course trainer

"I joined the Department of Justice more than 10 years ago. When I was a prosecutor at the central office, I handled high profile cases like smuggling, anti-human trafficking, cybercrime. Since then I have been transferred to the province, where I am more limited in my jurisdiction. We have a territorial jurisdiction assigned to each provincial prosecutor, and you are confined in that area.

Being a trainer as well as a prosecutor makes it hard for me to manage my time. Unfortunately, I only have one prosecutor under me. I am so grateful to IDLO for giving me these opportunities, because I’ve learned a lot. You think you are confident enough and have enough knowledge and experience to prosecute cases in court. But then when we joined these trainings, I realized a lot of things I’ve missed. Like in handling child witnesses: you really have to deal with them differently compared to ordinary witnesses."


What I’ve learned these past days is that most of the things I’ve been doing in court for 10 years need to be enhanced and honed.

Assistant City Prosecutor (Iligan City), course participant

"I’ve been a prosecutor for the past 10 years. Right now, I’m assigned to the environment court, and I also handle drugs cases. One of the challenges we face is the availability of expert witnesses. For example, with drugs cases we only have one forensic chemist but 11 courts. If all the drugs cases are called at once, that lone chemist witness will have to appear in all courts!

What I’ve learned these past days is that most of the things I’ve been doing in court for 10 years need to be enhanced and honed. I was lax and calm because I thought what I knew was enough. But there are a lot of chips to be cut off and more skills to be sharpened, so I really need more training."


This is my first training for trial since I’ve been a prosecutor. I’ve seen a lot of things that will help me prosecute cases successfully and improve how I carry myself in court.

Assistant City Prosecutor (Marawi City), course participant

"I’ve been in the prosecution since 2009. The court where I appear is a family court, so most of my cases involve women and children. But I also handle drugs cases, any type of cases really. Where I work, the judges, the public attorneys, the other prosecutors are all female. When men appear in our court, they are a bit intimidated!

This is my first training for trial since I’ve been a prosecutor. I’ve seen a lot of things that will help me prosecute cases successfully and improve how I carry myself in court. I’ve learned techniques in conducting direct examination. How to make it brief. How to present child witnesses. What to do when evidence is not available. I also learned during this training that all the material facts should be stipulated during the marking of evidence. That will make it easier for the judge in pre-trial because it will shorten the time it takes for the court to go over the case. My judge will be very happy!

We need training on anti-terrorism and cybercrime. Since the Marawi Siege there have been times where we receive threats pressuring us to dismiss cases, but of course we will not submit to their demands."


Usually the bulk of work in introducing evidence falls to the prosecution, so if we don’t present our cases well, then we don’t get a win, we don’t get convictions.

Office of the City Prosecutor (General Santos City), course participant

"I have been in the prosecution for only two years, but I had already been practicing law for 10 years when I joined. The heavy caseload is our main challenge. Instead of 22 prosecutors in our office, there are only eight of us. The prosecutors have to appear in several courts, and trials are morning and afternoon four days a week. So we don’t necessarily have enough time to resolve cases filed before our office.

I learned a lot during this training, such as what to remember when we conduct direct examinations. Or what to remember when we present evidence. Sometimes we have evidence, but it can’t be admitted because we weren’t able to follow correct procedures. Usually the bulk of work in introducing evidence falls to the prosecution, so if we don’t present our cases well, then we don’t get a win, we don’t get convictions. I believe IDLO and the Department of Justice can work together to equip prosecutors with skills, and perhaps enhance our knowledge about rules and procedure."


 

IDLO’s Advanced Trial Advocacy Course took place in Davao City on the island of Mindanao in July 2018. IDLO has been implementing its program on enhancing the institutional capacity of prosecutors in the Philippines since 2016, with support from the United States Department of State. The Philippines joined IDLO in 1989 as one of its founding Member Parties and hosted IDLO’s first regional training office in Manila in the 1990s.

 

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