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Reflections on

Restorative Justice
in the Philippines

HE JUSTICE system in the Philippines is
contradictory. In some areas it is
progressive and idealistic, in others
outmoded and ineffective. Either way,
problems with implementation are
paramount; the theory of the laws often extends
beyond their practical reach.
Whoever the commentator, are not violated.
the voice of the Filipino people This poses the question of
on the justice system seems what the future holds for justice
united. The problems in the Philippines. The system
commonly identified are at present recognizes crime as
implementation, corruption and the violation of state laws. In
miscarriage of justice often the identification of and
resulting in the victimization of response to crime, it considers
the poor. Adults experiencing only the law broken rather than
the justice system from all the individual affected.
angles - whether victim, One possible alternative
offender, policy maker, worker system is that of Restorative
– are all calling for change. Anti- Justice. A way of understanding
crime advocate and founder of Restorative Justice is by
Citizens Action Against Crime, imagining the justice system in
Teresita Baltazar said in a recent terms of a spectrum: placing
article entitled ‘Long wait for
justice’ that a crack-down on
crime was needed; the criminal
justice system “needs a major
overhaul to make it work.”
Inmates in the Correctional
Institution for Women (CIW)
repeatedly say that whilst the
justice system in theory is sound,
the implementation as a result
of bureaucracy is poor.
Despite their differing
perspectives, these groups are
joined by their common aims.
Both aspire for a society in which
there is less crime; fewer
victims, fewer offenders and
fewer miscarriages of justice;
where freedom, security and
stability are givens and rights High school students’ interpretation of restorative justice. Photos by TRACY P. PABICO

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retributive justice at one end,
polarised by Restorative Justice
at the other.
Restorative Justice aims to
consider the position of all those
affected by a crime – the victim,
offender, their families and the
community. It focuses on the
harm caused by the crime with
three stages. Firstly, it
encourages the offenders to
accept responsibility for what
they have done; secondly, it tries
to repair the harm done to the
victim; and finally, it tries to
reduce future harm by
preventing crime. Prosecution
only proceeds if the offender
fails to make sufficient repa-
ration. Throughout these stages,
the rehabilitation of the
offenders and their reinte-
gration back into society is a
primary concern.
This article considers some
of the Restorative Justice
practices at work in the
Philippines and what indivi-
duals, at all levels of the system,
say about the possibilities for
Within the Philippines two
programs stand out as currently
restorative in nature: the
recenty-enacted Juvenile Justice
and Welfare Act of 2006
(Republic Act 9344) and the
Barangay Justice System
(Katarungang Pambarangay).
Throughout the world, rehabilitation of offenders fundamental to tribal relations To try and understand what
Restorative Justice is increasing rather than on their im- today. The Barangay Justice other Restorative Justice
in popularity for juveniles. The prisonment. System (BJS) represents a practices could be introduced in
UK and the US have joined many However, the bill is ever Restorative Justice practice for the Philippines, we interviewed
other countries in introducing contradicted by the practice of adults, which has emerged from individuals at all levels of the
practices that focus on the the current system. Ray Dean indigenous practices (bottom- justice system to get an idea of
rehabilitation and reintegration Salvosa, Executive Director of up) rather than from govern- what restorative justice meant
of juveniles. The new Juvenile The Consuelo Foundation and ment initiatives (top-down). to them, what problems they
Justice Law reflects this trend, a key campaigner for the bill The BJS aims to address conflict perceived in the system at
forging its path as a leader of remarks that it took them eight in communities through present and what changes they
alternative practices world- years to get the bill passed but mediation. It only comes into would make for the future. All
wide and providing an excellent that it will probably take the play when the maximum of those interviewed had their
model for other countries. The same again before it is properly penalty for the crime committed own ideas about what
law raises the age of criminal implemented. Aside from this, is less than one year or the fine restorative justice is but the
responsibility, prevents the the theory is at least there, and less than P5000. Although it has common thread was the idea
detention of minors and the groundwork for a campaign been successful in reducing court that Restorative Justice meant
introduces programmes such as set. In a recent article ‘Juvenile backlog (by up to one half in restoring something which had
mediation, conflict resolution, Justice’ in The Philippine Daily some areas) the BJS still faces been lost.
reparation, anger management Inquirer, Michael L. Tan problems. The limits of the In the Correctional Institu-
and counselling for offenders welcomed the bill but asked, crimes that it can consider, the tion for Women this entails
under 15 years. Underlying “What about the adults?” possibilities for corruption, bias restoring to the women the
these changes is a theory of Restorative Justice has a and a lack of understanding of opportunity to change, to have
Restorative Justice. It presents long tradition within indige- how the system can work, often a second chance, by focusing on
a vision for a future where the nous communities. Practices prevent the system from rehabilitation. However, Atty.
emphasis is on the such as peace pacts are still reaching its full potential. Rachel Ruelo, Superintendent of

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the value she places on the lives

of the women in her institution, Restorative Whilst community reinte-
gration is being increasingly
giving the offender the space to
change, to try to repair what has
Justice will incorporated into the working
of the CIW, little contact has
gone wrong; to rehabilitate.
To Robert Arcinas Venera-
“always be a occurred between the victim
and the offender. The link in
cion, Security Officer I at the
CIW, his commitment to
work in this chain is left unrepaired.
Why? The welfare of the inmates

CIW looks beyond her work, to

rehabilitation was also clear. progress”, is the priority of the staff at CIW
‘We have no bad people, only and they fear a meeting
the bigger picture. For Atty. misguided people’, he said, evolving with a between such parties would put
Ruelo, justice is not an issue that concluding that ‘everybody the inmates at risk.
becomes relevant only when an deserves a fresh start.’ changing society And for the inmates them-
individual is faced with the law As was suggested by one of ................................................................... selves? Has their experience of
but is a principle that should be the inmates, he sees CIW as a justice been restorative? “Now
inherent in society. Justice and half-way house where inmates integration we must arm them. I’m here I want to be a better
injustice both manifest in terms can be rehabilitated. However, It is like going into battle’. person”, to be able to feel that
of the life opportunities offered he says that the stigma of the “To mend the brokenness of “even though I am here I am not
or denied by society: “From the prison makes reintegration prison, the emptiness” is how an outcast in society”. “Every-
kind of house you live, the kind difficult. He suggests that a one inmate at CIW defined body deserves a second chance
of food you eat, the kinds of ‘work program’, where of- Restorative Justice. The women in life. If God can forgive why
clothes you wear, the places you fenders are employed at inmates at CIW spoke with a can’t we?”
go, how you are treated by local minimum wage to improve the deep reflection and insight But what has been lost is the
authorities, what kind of country’s infrastructure, would about their understanding of opportunity to parent their
hospital you are admitted, to enable inmates to return to their Restorative Justice. Acknow- children, to serve society with
the kind of cemetery you are communities without the ledging the damage caused by their professional skills, to
buried.” To Atty. Ruelo, discrimination that comes from their actions, they felt willing sustain family bonds, to earn
Restorative Justice is about society’s perception of them as to repair what they could for the money for their family. These
giving back what has been criminals. He identifies that victim; and many had actively things will have to be repaired
denied; about recognising the inmates must learn ‘marketable tried. They were willing to when they are faced with
impact of basic needs of all in skills’ to prevent a relapse to the participate in a form of media- release.
society in order to “change the reasons why they committed tion facilitated by a third party, Consensus amongst CIW
plight of the poor.” the crime in the first place. He but felt sceptical that the victim inmates was that five years in
This philosophy is visible in remarks that ‘as part of would agree. the correctional is enough for

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punishment; after that the
process becomes dehabilitating:
‘anger sets in and you start to
loose your sense of self’ one
inmate said. It was commonly
agreed that despite the pro-
grams going on in the prison,
more rehabilitation is needed.
Several inmates called for
proper livelihood programs
where they could earn mini-
mum wage, others called for
proper counselling to provide
social and psychological
cleansing. It seemed that many
women lacked emotional
nurturing and one inmate
suggested that the only place to
find this within the prison was
to turn to the church. Most of
the women that we spoke to
said that they understood each
other better this way.
One inmate had a well
thought out alternative to the
prison system as it stands.
Although she said that she was
unaware of restorative justice,
she advocated a ‘community in
which offenders can be properly
rehabilitated; ‘to make us a Photo by TRACY P. PABICO
better person’. (Although this problems with the justice system Justice represents an ideal, but the antagonism between the
is exactly what CIW strives to – corruption, implementation an ideal that society should rational and the emotional,
be, it shows that the inmates feel and miscarriages of justice – nevertheless strive towards. confessing “that’s the
that more is needed.) Despite must be dealt with as urgently Restorative Justice will “always contradiction in my life”.
the focus on rehabilitation, this as any restorative reform of the be a work in progress”, Nonetheless, he affirms “I really
inmate acknowledged that punitive system. evolving with a changing believe in Restorative Justice”.
poverty was still a key cause of Resonating with Atty. society but what remains The cycle of Restorative
crime. She added that ‘unless Ruelo’s statement that “the fundamental is the “balancing Justice considers the causes and
the economic crisis is taken care underprivileged are denied act” between providing and consequences of crime. It aims
of decently and honestly the justice. The poor, the oppressed, protecting the needs of the three to address the needs of all
commission of crimes won’t the illiterate – most of them are agents to Restorative Justice: the parties equally and emphasizes
lessen.’ This further suggests denied justice”, the head of the victim, the offender and society. the value of all in society to
that although restorative justice Public Attorney’s Office, Atty. Salvosa stands at the interface participate in the restorative
practices are needed, this change Persida Acosta, also stated that between the sectors and his process. Restorative Justice is
must go hand in hand with her priority now was to fight insight into the justice system founded on the principle of
programs to alleviate poverty for the innocent ones. She has grown out of both balancing and representing the
as a significant cause of crime. appeals for the restoration of professional and personal needs of the victim, the offender
Furthermore, we were freedom for those who have experience. In his role with the and society. To function
struck by the number of inmates been denied it. Those who are The Consuelo Foundation he effectively, Restorative Justice
who either professed their own “there due to poverty, has been at the forefront of must therefore listen to the
innocence or who freely circumstances, and lack of good developing Juvenile Restorative diversity of the voices and
acknowledged that a fair lawyers”. Who else would be Justice system; working to acknowledge the words spoken
percentage of inmates they fighting for them?, she asks. understand the causes of crime, from experience.
knew were innocent. From this Atty. Acosta identifies that there recognising the efficacy of
the question must be posed: needs to be an equal voice rehabilitation programmes and *Sabha MacManus and Sophie
what is the place for restorative between the prosecution and the gaining an empathy and C. Millner are in the Philippines
justice in a system where those defence; an equal voice between understanding of the offender. under the internship program of
being rehabilitated may not the law enforcers and the Yet in his personal life he has the Centre for Capital
need rehabilitation in the first defence that protect human struggled with the loss of his Punishment Studies based at the
place, and yet those who need rights, and that there should be brother as a victim of crime and University of Westminster,
rehabilitation are escaping the a balance between all opposing this pain has raised questions London. They are working on a
system? Again we arrive at the sectors.’ and conflicts. Salvosa paper on restorative justice in
conclusion that the wider In Salvosa’s eyes Restorative acknowledges the existence of the Philippines.

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