By Ellson Quismorio
Surigao del Sur 2nd district Rep. Johnny Pimentel is proposing the creation of some 3,000 positions for “armed peace officers” or bailiffs in the judiciary.
“Judges, court personnel and litigants have become increasingly exposed to potential violence when hearing cases. They deserve adequate protection. We should have at least one bailiff in every courtroom,” Pimentel said.
As proposed by Pimentel, bailiffs would form part of the regular court staff and exercise law enforcement powers in buildings and properties used by judges.
“Just like in America, we should have a bailiff keeping the peace in every court proceeding, regardless whether the case being heard is criminal or civil in nature,” the Mindanao solon said, noting that trial courts deserve such security.
At present, the only peace officers in courts are the police or jail escorts of defendants in custody.
“But there are cases wherein the defendant is out on bail or otherwise free, in which case he or she comes to court without any police or jail escort at all,” Pimentel said.
“In the past, we’ve had highly publicized cases wherein, out of anger and frustration, people involved in lawsuits launched attacks during court proceedings,” he said.
The deadliest eruption of courtroom violence was in Cebu City in 2013, when a retired Canadian journalist charged with malicious mischief gunned down his accuser and a lawyer inside the Marcelo Fernan Palace of Justice.
Armed with two handguns, John Pope shot dead Dr. Reynolds Rafols, a pediatric surgeon, and his lawyer, Jubian Achas, as they waited for a hearing inside a courtroom.
Pope, 66, also gravely wounded city assistant prosecutor Maria Theresa Casiño, who survived despite taking a bullet in the head.
As he fled, Pope was shot in the leg and arm by two police officers who were about to attend a hearing. Pope then shot and killed himself.
Based on the Staffing Summary of the Supreme Court (SC) and the Lower Courts in the 2019 General Appropriations Act, the country has a total of 2,561 trial judges.
They are broken down into 1,301 Regional Trial Court judges; 169 Metro Trial Court judges; 257 City Trial Court judges; 468 Municipal Circuit Trial Court judges; and 366 Municipal Trial Court judges.