By Charissa Luci-Atienza
The House Committee on Justice has formed a technical working group (TWG) to consolidate seven measures seeking the creation of the Philippine Marshal Service to protect judges and justices, as well as to secure court proceedings and court properties.
The House panel, chaired by Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso designated Deputy Speaker and Misamis Occidental Rep. Henry Oaminal to head the TWG.
Oaminal, one of the principal authors of the bill, said the 31 cases of killings against judges should prod the Lower Chamber to expeditiously act on the measures.
“Many judges nationwide also continue to receive death threats in various forms. Even courthouses have been penetrated by gun-wielding individuals,” he said.
In the last few years, an average of two judges are killed every year, he noted.
During the Veloso panel’s deliberation on the proposed Philippine Marshals Service Act of 2019 on December 10, 2019, representatives from the Supreme Court, National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Department of Justice (DOJ), and Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) rallied behind the passage of the bill.
When asked to comment on the measures, the Philippine National Police-Police Security and Protection Group (PNP-PSPG) Director Marcelo Morales cautioned the panel against passing a provision in House Bills 5528 and 5654, principally authored by Deputy Speakers Luis Raymund Villafuerte of Camarines Sur, and Pablo John Garcia of Cebu.
Both bills authorize court marshals to conduct investigations concerning allegations of irregularities committeed by the justices, judges, court officials, and personnel.
Morales said such provision in both bills “may run in conflict with the functions of other law enforcement agencies.”
The PNP official also noted that the provision in House Bill 5403, filed by Deputy Speaker and Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, which mandates the judicial marshals “to undertake investigations of crimes and other offenses against the laws of the Philippines, upon its own initiative and as the public interest may require” appears to be a blanket authority for the Philippine Marshal Service to engage above and beyond its basic mandate.
“Our judges deserve strong protection, considering that they have become increasingly vulnerable to aggression and violence, presumably from disgruntled and hateful litigants,” Pimentel said.
The bills filed by Oaminal, Villafuerte, and Deputy Speaker Ferdinand Hernandez of South Cotabato proposed an initial P50 million funding for the creation of the Marshal Service, which is patterned after the United States Marshals Service.
The initial sum of P50 million shall be used for the salaries, wages and other expenses of personnel; and purchase of necessary supplies, materials and equipment.
It shall be sourced from the National Treasury and the appropriations for the succeeding fiscal years shall be included in the annual General Appropriations Act (GAA).
The measures provide that the Philippine Marshal Service, which shall be headed by the Chief Marshal who shall have the same rank, privileges, and compensation of a Court of Appeals Associate Justice.
There shall be three Deputy Marshals who shall be assigned in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. They shall have the same rank, privileges and compensation of a Regional Trial Court Judge.
The bills provide that the judicial marshals shall be given the power to make arrests, searches and seizures; and to issue subpoenas for the appearance of any person for investigation.
The Philippine Marshal Service shall also ensure that the court trials and hearings proceed orderly, and to assist in the execution and implementation of court orders, according to the bills.
The Marshal Service is tasked to conduct an investigation concerning allegations of irregularities, including graft and corruption, committed by justices, judges, court officials, and personnel.
Officials of the Philippine Marshall Service must be lawyers and must have been at least a full Colonel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) or the Philippine National Police (PNP), or an Assistant Director of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), according to the bills.
The Supreme Court en banc shall appoint them. They shall serve until they reach the age of 65, unless they become incapacitated to discharge the duties of their office or are removed for just cause by a vote of not less than eight justices of the High Court, the bills said.
Under the bills, the SC is tasked to determine and define the powers, duties, and responsibilities of the officials and personnel of the Philippine Marshal Service.