Mindanao lawyers revive move vs legal fees in courts

Ramon Edison Batacan, governor-elect of the IBP representing Eastern Mindanao, told reporters at the Kapihan sa SM City press conference Monday that these fees are viewed as a deterrent to filing charges.

Batacan vowed to spearhead the revival move in the IBP's 10-member Board of Governors.

"This is so that people can really file cases in court, and not put justice into their hands," he said adding many complainants are discouraged due to collection of filing fees or docket fees, among others for criminal cases.

Starting March 2004, the Justice department ordered collection of  fees from complainants as provided by Republic Act 9279 or the Act Granting Additional Compensation in the Form of Special Allowances for Members of the National Prosecution Service and State Counsels of the DOJ.

The fees vary. According to the Supreme Court website, complainants in an estafa case, for example, have to pay from P150 for damage estimated at P50,000 to P1, 000 for damage amounting to P500, 000.

The filing fee is P200 for complaints of reckless imprudence, oral defamation, malicious mischief and qualified theft.

For intellectual property rights violations, an inventor has to shell out P5, 000 to run against someone who abused his patent.

Carlos Isagani Zarate, former IBP Davao City chapter and in whose term the rule took effect, likened it to charging the public for filing a blotter report at a police station. Local lawyers and IBP chapters in Mindanao battled against the imposition of the policy.

Zarate told MindaNews in a telephone interview the case filed by the IBP in 2004 before the Supreme Court was withdrawn in 2005 reportedly over its implications on the need to increase the allowances for judges and prosecutors.

Batacan and Zarate said they are not opposing the pay hike of what Zarate acknowledges as among the lowest paid judges in Asia but explained that they complained on the grounds that the government's legislative body passed a law that transferred the burden required for the increases from the executive branch to the judiciary.

He said the power of taxation is in Congress, not in the Judiciary.

He said at present, litigants or individuals who file charges are the ones paying the burden for higher pay for the judges. 

He said instead of passing it to the complainants, the government can source it from taxes and other sources.

"It is the poor who are affected by this policy. But even pauper litigants pay P50 per documents at the Public Attorneys' Office," Zarate said.   

Zarate also noted that if  government can give more attention to the judiciary, like diverting a portion of pork barrel funds given to legislators, there would be no need to collect fees.

Batacan said he was tasked by the IBP leadership to pass a resolution embodying his call to revisit the law. 

He said they are still finalizing the specifics of the move and is drawing support from the 11 chapters of the IBP in Eastern Mindanao.

Manuel Quibod, IBP Davao City chapter president, told MindaNews the IBP could file an administrative appeal at the DOJ to stay the collection of fees or file a motion at the Supreme Court to declare the law null and void. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)