In the province of Nueva Vizcaya, visitors are most likely to be taken to jail.
It may sound uncanny but the provincial jail, located within the Provincial Capitol’s compound, is one of its hottest tourist destinations and a favorite stop for schoolchildren’s fieldtrips. Officials of the provincial government would conduct a walking tour of the jailhouse, which has been cited as the “cleanest and healthiest” in the country.
The provincial jail is but a microcosm of the effective criminal justice system in Nueva Vizcaya. A program initiated by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Nueva Vizcaya Chapter, the courts and the provincial government aims to address the needs of all the “victims” of a criminal act: the accused, their families, the convicts, and the community as a whole.
Governor Rodolfo Q. Agbayani says the program regards jail inmates as “offenders-in-transition” and not guilty criminals. As such, they are provided with the necessary skills–economic, social and spiritual–that prepare them for their return to free society.
The program involves the so-called “Seven Pillars” of the criminal justice system: the community, law enforcement agencies, public and private lawyers, courts, correctional, the church, and media. It traces its beginnings in a judicial summit sponsored by the IBP-Nueva Vizcaya in 1998.
The summit tackled the role of “convergence and complementation” of the various pillars to unify efforts and resources toward a common and shared goal: to have a speedy and effective disposition and dispensation of justice, says Governor Agbayani.
Nueva Vizcaya was once beset with mounting lawsuits. The accused, particularly the poor, did not have easy access to good legal service. Investigations were often conducted unprofessionally, and jailhouses were managed inefficiently.
With the seven pillars working together, court backlogs were reduced, lawyers turned service-oriented, jailhouses were decongested, and the rehabilitation program became more holistic. Special courts have also been established for women and child victims.
Other endeavors include the empowerment of Lupong Tagapamayapa to strengthen law enforcement and justice system at the barangay level and the creation of productive “tambayan centers” for out-of-school youth.
To ensure that these seven pillars do not rest on their laurels, an annual summit is held to evaluate their performance and the progress of the project.
The seven pillars continually coordinate efforts and pool their resources to ensure the continued speedy disposition of cases, uphold both the law and human rights, and minimize crime.
Today, Governor Agbayani takes pride in having a province that has been jueteng-free for the last four years, and where no barangay is threatened nor influenced by the New People’s Army. Nueva Vizcaya has also received consistent recognition for having the “Most Outstanding Peace and Order Council in the Philippines”.