I was in the office of the Clerk of Court last Friday, supervising the filing of a complaint, which prayed for PHP 2.2 million in damages. My client and I were a bit shocked when we got the assessment for the docket fees. The figure was PHP 42,000. I asked the cashier if the amount was based only on the PHP 2.2 million, and she confirmed that indeed the basis was the amount stated in our camplaint, PHP 2. 2 million. We paid the docket fee, and filed the complaint. My client then figured out that the ratio appears to be for every one million pesos in dispute, the filing fee is PHP 20,000.
This means that for small amounts, say a million or two, the twenty thousand per million appears to be manageable. But when the figures in dispute reach PHP 50 million, the filing fees could actually hit a whopping one million pesos! Considering, however, that there are other costs of litigation, it's easy to imagine why people would find filing a court case a tough route to take to run after Shylock's proverbial pound of flesh, as it were.
Sometime ago we opened a branch of our law office in Cabanatuan City, a rich little city up north about three hours away from our Quezon City office. One of our prospective clients who was married to a deceased lawyer warned me that they don't have much need for lawyers there, because assassins were cheaper. I was a bit amused, and took her advice as a joke. Two years after, I remembered what she said as my partners and I decided to close the branch, and focus our practice elsewhere. The branch was self-sustaining, but it didn't meet our projections. Perhaps, it has indeed something to do with the high costs of lawyers and filing fees.
Today, again I am reminded of what that client told me in Cabanatuan City two years ago. If somebody ran away with my PHP 50 million, I would seriously hesitate on filing a case, as it would entail an additional cost of PHP 1 million just to get it to the court docket. It's just like throwing good money after bad, so to speak. Meanwhile, an assassin's services costs only PHP 15,000. I am not endorsing their services. All that I am saying is they must be enjoying good business these days.
For all his lofty achievements as Chief Justice, Hilario Davide would go down in history as the Chief Justice under whose administration the price of obtaining justice tremendously increased. And while he could argue that the increase in court fees would translate into better motivated and efficient people working on the judiciary, the bottomline is still by raising the court docket fees to unprecedented levels, he actually made the PHP 15000 option on an assassin an easier choice for the prospective litigant seeking relief for payment of just debts. Thus, the increase in docket fees is a myopic approach to the problem of improving the quality of justice in this country.
The better approach should have been to maintain low docket fees and to push the Executive and Legislative Departments to increase the Judiciary's budget, considering that government money is being wasted by the Executive and Legislative on soft coups and soft projects, where the S.O.P. is at least 30 percent kickback! By pricing docket fees at such a steep price, the former Chief Justice might as well tell the people to consider chaos instead. If every prospective litigant is driven to take the cheaper services of an assassin instead of going through the costly and slow motion of court litigation, it would actually cause the collapse of the justice system as we know it. Man's thirst for justice is primal. Price it too high, and people will find a way to get it, faster and cheaper in one way or another.