Because of certain events, suddenly, many animal lovers online are insisting on filing legal cases against various entities. Some have even taken to condemning animal welfare advocates who they insist are moving too slow when it comes to filing cases against offending corporations and groups.

But do you know what it’s really like to file a case?

It is tedious, for one; we at Animal Scene have heard the hardship stories of members of different animal welfare groups who have tried to fight things out in court, only to be thwarted by the lack of time, money, resources, and the simple morale-booster of knowing people have your back. The Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) openly discusses what they can of their cases on their Facebook page, and a screen capture of their pleas for help is included here.

Animal Scene spoke to Heidi Marquez-Caguioa, lawyer and program director of the Animal Kingdom Foundation, and she generously shared her experience and that of her organization with us. Comments from volunteers from other organizations (who have asked to remain anonymous for security purposes) are included.

What it’s like to file cases under RA 8485 or the Philippine Animal Welfare Act?

ATTY. MARQUEZ-CAGUIOA: Filing of criminal cases in the Philippines is not a walk in the park. It requires not just courage and determination to pursue the case to the end, but also requires that you have that evidence sufficient to convict the accused.

BEFORE “FILE A CASE NOW!”: It also requires time (not just for court hearings but also for research), money, commitment, and resources such as printers and mobile phone load. For animal welfare groups that rely on donations, it often becomes a choice between using donated money to pursue a case, or to buy food for their rescued animals—something virtually no keyboard warrior ever seems to think of.

What should someone reporting a violation of the law do?

ATTY. MARQUEZ-CAGUIOA: Once a crime is committed, the victim should be able to report the same to the barangay or police and secure a blotter. It is easier if the accused/offender is immediately apprehended immediately after the commission of the offense/crime so that the police can initiate inquest proceedings with the Office of the Prosecutor. In inquest proceedings, the offender/accused, may be immediately incarcerated.

BEFORE “FILE A CASE NOW!”: People always forget that those who are violent with animals rarely hesitate about being violent with humans as well. Sometimes it’s better to document abuse than to fight it alone, then ask for guidance from more experienced animal welfare advocates.

What if I can’t report the crime immediately, like if I have to take my pet or an injured animal to the vet, or we need to identify the attacker?

ATTY. MARQUEZ-CAGUIOA: If the offender is not arrested immediately after the commission of the offense and the crime is discovered much later, the victim who is the complainant can file his/her complaint with the Prosecutors Office. It is important that the complainant is able to get a good and efficient lawyer. The Affidavit Complaint must indicate:

  • The factual circumstances of the alleged crime committed
  • The identity of the offender, and
  • The specific acts committed.
  • It must bear the specific time and place when the offense was committed or any of its elements.
  • Each allegation must be supported by evidence, whether testimonial, photographs, object evidence, certifications and the like. The complainant’s witnesses, who must have personal knowledge of the fact they are testifying on, must be able to execute their affidavits also.

BEFORE “FILE A CASE NOW!”: All too often people think “reporting” something on Facebook is enough. Not if you want to file a court case. You need to execute a legal document in order for a case to prosper. And you can’t vanish halfway through the trial, or not have evidence. A note on all caps reports: “OMG ds PERSON s EVIL ANG SMA SAMA MAMATAY SNA SHA” is not going to get any respect whatsoever. Calm down and list the facts without judgment or emotional coloring, and try to use clear language.

Why can’t the case proceed immediately?

ATTY. MARQUEZ-CAGUIOA: Once the case is filed with the Prosecutor’s Office, hearings will be scheduled. The alleged offender is given 10 days to submit a counter affidavit. Thereafter, the complainant is given another 10 days to submit a Reply. The prosecutor is given another 10 days to resolve the case. Of course, depending on the complexity of the case, the Prosecutor may conduct clarificatory hearings.

It is only when the prosecutor resolves that there is a probable case that a Criminal Information is filed in court. A probable cause is the existence of such facts and circumstances as would excite the belief in a reasonable mind, acting on the facts within the knowledge of the prosecutor, that the person charged was guilty of the crime for which s/he was prosecuted.

When the case is filed in court, the case goes through pre-trial and trial stages. This may look simple but then again, during the pre trial, the parties are required to disclosed and lay down their evidences. Any evidence that is not presented and marked during the pre-trial may not be presented as evidence later except when the judge approves the same on good grounds. During the trial, the witnesses are grilled as the opposing party attempts to destroy their credibility during the cross examination. If the witness is faint hearted, it may impact on the case no matter how defensible the case is.

BEFORE “FILE A CASE NOW!”: The paragraph above is very important. Stop judging people; it’s not easy to testify during a trial.

Is there any way to speed things up, like maybe a petition on change.org or something?

ATTY. MARQUEZ-CAGUIOA: While the Continuous Trial Act has improved the speed of the hearing schedules, the sheer volume of cases in a court may still affect the schedule of hearings per case. It is a known fact that cases are resolved years after the same is filed. This may take a toll on complainant’s and witnesses’ interest.

BEFORE “FILE A CASE NOW!”: Volunteer A shares, “We often get people who drop out halfway through a case, even when the conviction hinges on their testimony.”

Volunteer B, of another organization, adds, “Yes, that’s a serious problem. But then a lot of abusers are neighbors or in the neighborhood and people have to live with them. Pinoys tend to ostracize anyone who fights the status quo and reporting animal abuse is seen as OA by most Pinoys—even those who [crusade relentlessly on their keyboards in Facebook] will be very different in real life. People need support, and attending court hearings while overcoming nasty remarks in the neighborhood or being intimidated by the person they are testifying against is a very difficult situation, one I think the keyboard warriors who insist on ‘fight fight fight’ should experience for themselves.”

Does the bad guy have the right to a lawyer even if I have proof of what s/he did?

ATTY. MARQUEZ-CAGUIOA: In criminal cases, the Public Prosecutor acts as the counsel for the complainant as the prosecuting arm. This is because criminal cases are offenses committed against the state. However, s/he may be assisted by a private prosecutor (private lawyer) in cases allowed by the court, the Prosecutor’s Office. It is a known fact however, that the Public Prosecutors are laden with heavy caseloads. To ensure focus and attention on the case, the complainants can have the option to hire private lawyers. There are cases also that the Public Prosecutor may not be familiar with or may not have the expertise to prosecute the same, and thus, the Court and the Office of the Prosecutor allows the case to be tried by a private prosecutor ( any private lawyer preferred by complainant).

In Criminal Cases, proof beyond reasonable doubt is required to convict an accused. Once doubt is established during the trial or that there is no sufficient evidence to convict, the judge may acquit and dismiss the complaint. Where there is no moral certainty as to the guilt, they must be acquitted even though their innocence may be questionable. The constitutional right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty can be overthrown only by proof beyond reasonable doubt (People of the Phils vs. Asis).

BEFORE “FILE A CASE NOW!”: Volunteer C shares, “The court of public opinion is practically worthless. No establishment lost bookings from low ratings, not when several other industries support it, and people forget scandals within months or years. A court case stays on a person or institution’s record, and will give them problems in the future. So it’s best to have complete papers, a solid group of witnesses, and don’t rush to file a case, do it carefully [to ensure it goes in your favor]. And never forget that it’s not a matter of winning or losing; it’s about the animals and being the voice they need.”

 

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s April 2018 issue.