House leader cites need to provide protection for judges

By Ellson Quismorio

Deputy Speaker and Surigao del Sur 2nd district Rep. Johnny Pimentel feels that local judges are as helpless as "sitting ducks" in the light of recent attacks against magistrates.

Surigao del Sur 2nd district Rep. Johnny Pimentel (Facebook / MANILA BULLETIN) Surigao del Sur 2nd district Rep. Johnny Pimentel

“Right now, every active judge is a sitting duck, with absolutely no protection whatsoever against potential attacks,” said Pimentel, author of House Bill (HB) 5403 which seeks to establish the Office of the Philippine Marshals Service under the Supreme Court (SC).

“This is in response to Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta’s call for a marshals service for the judiciary,” Pimentel said, noting that the marshals will be tapped to protect members of the judiciary.

The Mindanaoan lawmaker filed his measure days after the November 5 assassination of Tagudin, Ilocos Sur Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 25 Judge Mario Anacleto Bañez.

Bañez was the second RTC judge murdered this year, after the May 9 killing of Sindangan, Zamboanga del Norte RTC Branch 11 Judge Reymar Lacaya.

He is also the 31st member of the judiciary slain while in active service since 1999.

Under Pimentel’s bill, the marshals service shall be headed by a director, who will be appointed by the SC Chief Justice.

The organizational structure, composition and the size of the service shall be determined by the director and the Chief Justice.

As proposed by Pimentel, every marshal shall be a bachelor’s degree holder, and shall be at least 21 years old but not older than 35.

The marshals shall: undergo training at the Philippine Public Safety College; possess suitable firearms for the proper protection of court officers and properties; serve as “peace officers” and as such, have the power to conduct arrests, searches and seizures in accordance with existing laws and rules; investigate and counteract crimes against judicial officers; and take and require sworn truthful statements of any person or persons so summoned in relation to cases under investigation.

At present, judges are able to obtain close protection officers from the Philippine National Police (PNP) only upon request on a case-to-case basis.

“This arrangement is inadequate, given that judges may not readily perceive threats from angry and atrocious litigants,” Pimentel said.

Based on the judiciary’s staffing summary in the 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA), the country has a total of 2,561 trial judges.

The figure is broken down as follows: 1,301 RTC judges, 169 Metro Trial Court judges, 257 City Trial Court judges, 468 Municipal Circuit Trial Court judges, and 366 Municipal Trial Court judges.

Aside from the 15 members of the High Court, there are also 70 justices of the Court of Appeals and nine justices of the Court of Tax Appeals. (Ellson A. Quismorio)