Metro Manila, Philippines — The Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Department of Justice are working on a program with the end goal of improving the country’s justice system and decongesting jail facilities.

“When I was analyzing everything and I was discussing with my fellow lawyers the problem of our justice system, what became very apparent was that enforcement and persecution did not seem to work well together,” DOJ Sec. Jesus Crispin Remulla said in a joint briefing Thursday.

He also noted that the country’s conviction rate is less than 25% for criminal cases filed in court, including plea bargaining, “which means we are not really getting a passing rate.”

“This not a standard that we can live within the next few years. We have to change this drastically,” Remulla added.

DILG Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. said the program will include reassessing what is happening on the ground, specifically with regards to the capability of law enforcers. Noting the importance of investigations in every case, he said there is a need to make sure that “police investigators are well-versed in criminal law.”

Citing government data, Abalos said only 123 of the country’s 22,774 police investigators are law graduates.

He also raised the problem of lack of witnesses, like in drug-related cases, which leads to the dismissal of cases.

According to data, out of the 291,393 illegal drug cases filed, 5,753 have been dismissed, while 223,579 are still pending, the DILG chief said.

Abalos added that local government units will be encouraged to designate one employee to focus on this aspect and coordinate with the DOJ.

The departments also hope to incorporate digitalization in the country’s justice system.

Remulla said he has already endorsed someone to President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. who would act as assistant secretary for digital infrastructure in the DOJ to ensure the efficient processing of information, from prosecution to correction.

The Justice chief also emphasized the importance of digital records for the Board of Pardons and Parole and the Parole and Probation Administration in fast-tracking their processes for over thousands of inmates.

On congestion in prisons, Abalos said it has already “significantly declined from 612% in 2017 to 387% as of June 2022.” But he added that more facilities should be built, which can be made possible through lot donations or long-term leases from LGUs.

Bureau of Jail Management and Penology jail director Allan Iral said the problem can also be solved by improving and repairing facilities, improving the plea bargaining process, and fast-tracking hearings.