Speech on the Launch of the National Justice Information System (NJIS)
Hon. Menardo I. Guevarra
Manila Hotel • 10 January 2020 • 4:00 p.m.
Last year, a prominent prisoner convicted for rape and multiple murder was almost released prematurely.
The possibility of someone who has committed such a grave and serious crime getting out of prison and re-joining the community before fully serving his sentence was expectedly met with severe public indignation.
The passage of a law six years before that sought to, among others, grant time credits and privileges to persons deprived of liberty on account of good behavior, and on the theory of prisoner reform and rehabilitation, opened up this possibility.
The same opening significantly widened as the law’s original implementing rules failed to fill in the gaps in the legislation they were supposed to implement.
What transpired after has become a stark reminder to us all of how the implementation of our best intentioned laws can be derailed by the slightest shortage of caution and foresight.
That incident has always reminded us how even laws that purport to serve the public good can be hijacked by those who seek to profit from loopholes in the law.
To this day, the revelations made in the investigation called by the Senate, the public resentment they generated, and the indignity we collectively felt upon hearing them, linger in our consciousness.
The testimonies of family members who allegedly transacted with unscrupulous prison officials for the release of their loved ones under what we have termed the Expanded Good Conduct Time Allowance law exposed not only the faces of those who seemingly abused their office and the public trust.
These painful narratives likewise brought to fore the vulnerabilities in the protocols and systems which, for decades, had been used to run and manage our prisons and penology systems.
I suspect that the same vulnerabilities in varying degrees infect many other systems, whether within the government bureaucracy or the governance structures in the private sector.
To think that the systems within which we administer and deliver justice are immune from these vulnerabilities may prove to be a costly assumption.
To assume that any system is foolproof from exploitation, abuse, and worse, corruption, creates complacency that could dangerously put in peril not only the efficiency of our service.
Such a dangerous assumption may likewise make our goal of attaining and serving justice difficult, if not altogether illusory.
We launch today the National Justice Information System or NJIS with the hard lessons from years past, made fresh by the incident I have just recalled.
The NJIS is an information and data management system and inter-agency exchange portal that seeks to make available uniform data to those involved in the delivery and administration of justice.
Under this System, data and information on our laws, the cases involving certain parties, and persons deprived of liberty or PDLs, among others, will be digitized and uploaded to a portal, and shared throughout the relevant offices in the bureaucracy.
These information and data will be made accessible to, among others, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, law enforcement officers, including immigration officers, parole and probation officers, and conceivably even social workers.
Our aim is not simply the collation of data and their placement online.
Our job does not entail simply collecting information on cases and about those involved in them.
Our job is to make sure that correct information and data promptly reach those who administer our criminal justice system so that they may make use of these towards the dispensation of justice.
Correct information and data are required to prevent instances of mistaken identity in the operations conducted by our law enforcement authorities, including those in the arrest of persons accused of having violated our laws.
Correct information and data are essential if our immigration officers are to ensure that no fugitive leaves our immigration gates to evade our criminal justice system, just as they are necessary for the same immigration officers to avoid unduly impairing the right to travel of innocent citizens.
Correct information and data are important to guarantee that each PDL fully serves his or her sentence, but stays not a day longer in jail.
Placing these information and data at the fingertips of those managing our criminal justice system at the right time is critical if we are to avoid any miscarriage of justice.
A minute of delay may be enough for a fugitive to escape our jurisdiction and evade prosecution, whether temporarily or permanently.
Other delays may forever deprive an ailing PDL from experiencing once more the warmth of family life, or the peace and quiet of one’s twilight years lived outside a prison cell.
But our task does not end simply because correct information and data have promptly reached decision-makers.
Our task extends beyond this point.
It entails protecting the integrity of sensitive information and data, and establishing adequate measures that permit the tracking, review and verification of any alteration in these data.
For as we have learned, data, in the hands of those who have ulterior motives, can be manipulated and altered to the detriment of the public good.
Part of our task is to dissuade those from our ranks from even entertaining such ulterior motives.
This we can do by adopting a data management system which guarantees that those who manipulate and intentionally alter data will be caught and, more importantly, punished.
The NJIS is an important step in ensuring that the correct information and data promptly reach administrators and officers of the agencies that comprise our criminal justice system, and in exacting greater transparency and accountability in the way they perform their tasks.
But the uses of the NJIS we envision today may be limited by the frontiers of our own imagination.
As we utilize and perfect this system, its capacities will grow, thereby forcing into our consciousness the many other possibilities for its uses which may have escaped our imagination today.
In the years to come, the NJIS will undoubtedly grow even more in importance as a tool for storing and managing data and information upon which our people’s conception and experience of what justice is – or ought to be – will in part depend.
The signing of the Memoranda of Agreement by the hands of our respective Departments, offices and agencies is therefore the first of many steps necessary to expand the realm of what is possible for the justice sector in the age of information technology.
Our execution of these Memoranda is the culmination of years of brainstorming, discussions and negotiations.
But in no sense can we take it as the end of our work.
This signing is just a part of a long process of conceptualizing, innovating, launching, reassessing, fine-tuning, and adapting this system in a way that best responds to the important needs and demands of the criminal justice sector.
Fulfilling our obligations under these Memoranda will be the more difficult and challenging task ahead.
I am however confident that in the hands of each of you, and under the guidance and leadership of the officials present here today, this task we can perform faithfully and fully.
After all, while at its inception, the NJIS is an initiative of the Department of Justice, it is, henceforth, a common responsibility shared by all of us who are charged with, and committed to, making the delivery of justice more efficient, and more responsive to the needs of our people.
To this responsibility, may we all remain committed.
Thank you and a pleasant evening to all.