By Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has reduced its backlog of cases, mostly land disputes, by 62 percent over a year.
In an inventory report submitted to DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu, Legal Affairs Service (LAS) Director Norlito Eneran disclosed that the agency’s case backlog went down to 559 in January 2019 from a high of 1,482 in January 2018.
Of the 559 cases, 193 are with the Legal Research and Opinion Division; 127 with the Claims and Conflicts Division; 97 with the Litigation and Prosecution Division; and 9 with the Investigation and Arbitration Division.
Another 133 pending cases are with the Zero Backlog Task Force whose duty is to dispose of cases filed in or before 1999 and to resolve those where parties can be considered to have abandoned their claims for failure to submit the required pleadings or non-payment of fees.
“The days of long, drawn-out cases are finally numbered,” Cimatu said.
Eneran said a DENR program proved to be effective to eliminate the backlog and adopt alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in resolving cases lodged with the agency.
Eneran said the cases, mostly land disputes, are farmed out to the four offices under LAS, including the Zero Backlog Task Force, which Cimatu created in January 2018, to identify cases that can easily be removed from the dockets without the need to hear the parties.
“Almost 90 percent of our cases in the DENR are land cases and the parties involved in many of these are either relatives or neighbors,” he said.
He explained that ADR fosters win-win solutions to the parties through a neutral third party, including restoration of strained relationships.
Eneran added that ADR is being implemented in the DENR at the community and provincial levels, pursuant to Republic Act 9285 or the Alternative Dispute Resolution Act of 2004 and Executive Order 523 entitled Instituting the Use of ADR in the Executive Department of the Government.
He said DENR has rolled out a number of ADR training activities nationwide and non-lawyer personnel of the agency have been encouraged to become Alternative Dispute Resolution Officers (ADROs.)
ADROs are “mediators” who help both parties find or tailor solutions to specific needs of both parties outside of the litigation process.
Eneran said that a total of 157 ADROs have been accredited after passing rigorous trainings and 64 more are expected to be added after the completion of their training programs this month.