‘Justice on Wheels’ brings new beginning to persons deprived of liberty in Cotabato province

The 5th Enhanced Justice on Wheels in Cotabato Province piloted the use of remote court hearings through videoconferencing. This enabled the court to reach victims and witnesses in remote areas. The mobile court hearing was conducted in Barangay Basak in Magpet town, making Cotabato province the first site to use videoconferencing. (Photo courtesy of the Provincial Governor’s Office Information and Development Communication Division, LGU Cotabato Province)

KIDAPAWAN CITY, Cotabato (PIA) — At least 74 persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) have been released and granted a fresh start following the recent implementation of the Enhanced Justice on Wheels (EJOW) program in Cotabato province.

“Gapasalamat kami sa programa nga EJOW kay kini makatabang dili lamang sa paspas nga pagresolba sa amoang mga kaso, naghatag pud kini ug dako nga oportunidad para sa amoang mga pamilya [We are thankful for the EJOW program because it helps not only to resolve our cases quickly but also provides a great opportunity for our families],” said alias Nono, a PDL from the Makilala District Jail.

Alias Dats, also a PDL from the North Cotabato District Jail, expressed his gratitude to the provincial government and the Supreme Court for the conduct of ‘mobile court’ , noting the government’s assistance to PDLs as an inspiration for them to change their lives.

Thanking the Supreme Court for conducting the EJOW in her province, Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza described it as an efficient mechanism to help, especially those PDLs whose cases have been pending for years.

“The provincial government is prioritizing human rights and we are promoting the welfare of every detained individual making sure that they are given enough attention and intervention,” said the governor.

The Cotabato provincial government, in collaboration with the Supreme Court, leads the EJOW program to help decongest the province’s correctional facilities and accelerate PDLs’ hearings of their cases.

Associate Justice Amy Lazaro-Javier, representative of Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo, lauded the local governments and other partners and stakeholders who supported all the activities of the Supreme Court.

“We thank everyone who supported us in our mission to make justice speedy and accessible to all, especially the underserved and the underprivileged, through the EJOW,” she said.

The EJOW program was brought to barangay Basak in Magpet in Cotabato province and rolled out the use of remote court hearings via videoconferencing, making the province the pilot site of the said innovation.

Prior to EJOW’s implementation in the province, a series of meetings, ocular inspections, and other activities were undertaken to ensure the smooth conduct of mobile court hearings as well as provide a safe venue for all stakeholders involved in the implementation.

Persons deprived of liberty (PDL) in Cotabato province received assistance from different offices during the recent conduct of the 5th Enhanced Justice on Wheels. The Department of Social Welfare and Development distributed food packs and P3,000 each to 75 PDLs. Also, some 68 PDLs received farm animals from the Office of the Provincial Veterinarian, while three PDLs were given tilapia and hito fingerlings. (Photo courtesy of the Provincial Governor’s Office Information and Development Communication Division, LGU Cotabato Province)

As part of the EJOW program, Taliño-Mendoza highlighted the provision of various services for inmates at the North Cotabato District Jail. Among these services, 201 inmates accessed free medical and dental services, 125 received free legal consultations, and 84 benefited from free haircuts.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist, and the Office of the Provincial Veterinarian also provided livelihood assistance to PDLs.

Records from the Provincial Legal Office indicate that aside from the 74 indigent PDLs freed this year, there had been 148 cases promulgated, 87 convicted, 27 dismissed, and 13 acquitted.

Now in its fifth year, the EJOW program in the province was first implemented in 2012, where 89 PDLs were freed and 86 cases dismissed. The second implementation was in 2014, with 157 freed and 13 convicted.

In 2016, 95 were freed, five were transferred to a new penal institution, 25 cases were referred for mediation, and 14 underwent mediation.

The fourth implementation in 2018 resulted in the liberty of 400 PDLs, with 30 cases referred for mediation and nine went through mediation. (SJDM edited by CTA,  PIA Cotabato Province)

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