The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has reduced its backlog of cases by 62 percent over the course of one year, according to its Legal Affairs Service (LAS).
In his inventory report submitted to Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu, LAS Director Norlito Eneran said the DENR’s case backlog went down to 559 in January 2019 from a high of 1,482 in January 2018.
Eneran said the gains came after Cimatu started a program to eliminate the backlog and adopt alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in resolving cases lodged with the DENR.
Cimatu said this development demonstrates how serious the DENR is in addressing its case backlog. “The days of long, drawn-out cases are finally numbered,” he declared.
“The process in eliminating undue delays in the resolution of cases are now being felt as gaps and flaws in the process that had allowed delays to thrive in the past are now being addressed,” the DENR chief added.
Eneran said the cases, mostly land disputes, are farmed out to the four offices under LAS, including the Zero Backlog Task Force, which Cimatu created in January 2018 to identify cases that can easily be removed from the dockets “moto proprio” or without the need to hear the parties.
“Almost 90 percent of our cases in the DENR are land cases and the parties involved in many of these are either relatives or neighbors,” Eneran said, noting that ADR proved to be effective in resolving cases of such nature.
ADR, he said, fosters win-win solutions to the parties through a neutral third party, including restoration of strained relationships.
Eneran said that ADR is being implemented in the DENR at the community and provincial levels, pursuant to Republic Act 9285 or the Alternative Dispute Resolution Act of 2004 and Executive Order 523 entitled Instituting the Use of ADR in the Executive Department of the Government.
He said the DENR has rolled out a number of ADR trainings nationwide and non-lawyer personnel of the agency have been encouraged to become Alternative Dispute Resolution Officers or ADROs.
ADROs are “mediators” who help both parties find or tailor solutions to specific needs of both parties outside of the litigation process.
Eneran said that a total of 157 ADROs have been accredited after passing rigorous trainings and 64 more are expected to be added after completion of their trainings this month.
ADR became fully operational at the DENR in December 2016 with the issuance of DENR Administrative Order 2016-30 calling for the establishment of mechanisms and tools for ADR in the disposition of land claims and conflicts, the organization of a pool of ADROs, and the creation of a committee and secretariat tasked to implement the ADR process.
“These efforts have translated into fewer cases elevated to the DENR Central Office for appeal,” he pointed out.
Of the 559 cases, 193 are with the Legal Research and Opinion Division; 127 with the Claims and Conflicts Division; 97 with the Litigation and Prosecution Division; and 9 with the Investigation and Arbitration Division.
Another 133 pending cases are with the Zero Backlog Task Force whose priority is to dispose of cases filed in or before 1999 and to resolve those where parties can be considered to have abandoned their claims for failure to submit the required pleadings or non-payment of fees.
The task force handled 871 cases that are either for dismissal, archiving or mediation. The bulk of these cases were appeals on land dispute rulings by DENR regional directors.