As part of the celebration of “Women’s Month” this March, Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo extolled women justices and judges who exhibited “efficiency and resilience under uncertain circumstances and challenging conditions” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Judiciary would do well to support and recognize your accomplishments for both women and men to emulate,” Gesmundo said during the convention of the Philippine Women Judges Association (PWJA) last March 21 in Pasay City.
“The SC is committed to give all the support it can to our magistrates, women and men, so they may develop coping mechanisms, improve personal development skills, and realize their full potential, as the Court moves toward greater speed, efficiency, and innovation in its operations and processes,” Gesmundo assured.
As of Feb. 28, 2023, there are 1,105 lady judges compared to 938 male magistrates in the country’s trial courts – from the regional trial court (RTC) to the municipal trial court (MTC).
The 15-member SC is still male-dominated – 13 male justices and 2 lady jurists. SC Justice Amy C. Lazaro Javier is the president while Justice Maria Filomena D. Singh is the executive vice president of PWJA, respectively.
The 66-member Court of Appeals as of March 23, 2023 is headed by Presiding Justice Remedios Salazar A. Fernando with 28 other lady magistrates.
The anti-gaft court – Sandiganbayan –Justice Amparo M. Cabotaje Tang. There are seven other lady magistrates in the anti-graft court.
The nine-member Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) is dominated by lady jurists. The only male magistrate is Presiding Justice Roman G. Del Rosario.
The SC’s public information office (PIO) said that in his message, Gesmundo also stressed the importance in looking after the mental health of judges and court personnel.
“Cognizant of the important role that mental health plays in our lives, whether at home, school, or workplace, the Supreme Court, as part of its reform agenda, the Strategic Plan for Judicial Innovations 2022-2027 or SPJI, will institutionalize a health insurance system for officials and employees,” he said.
“Free or subsidized annual physical and mental health examinations will be mandated. Mental Health Units will also be established in all court levels in our judicial regions around the country,” he also said.
He noted that last October, the SC convened the SC’s Governing Council on Mental Health, and launched the SC Mental Health Unit and Mental Health Helpline a few months after.
“We need to recognize that taking care of mental health is not a luxury, but a necessity for all individuals. This means providing resources to help our judges manage their mental health, whether through counselling services, mindfulness training, or other forms of support,” he stressed.
He then emphasized the need to address the systemic issues that contribute to mental health challenges for women judges, including “gender biases that still exist in the legal profession and ensuring that women have equal opportunities for advancement and leadership positions.”
“We had approved our first ever organic Guidelines for the Use of Gender-Fair Language and Courtroom Etiquette in the Judiciary. We have also approved the Study on Feminism in Philippine Jurisprudence, which seeks to make a qualitative analysis of gender themes and philosophies, as well as any gap and inconsistency, in local precedents,” he said.
At the same time, Gesmundo said “we reconstituted and strengthened our Committee on Decorum and Investigation of Sexual Harassment Cases, or CODI, in all levels of our courts and in all administrative offices.”
Aside from Chief Justice Gesmundo and Justices Javier and Singh, the other SC justices present during the PWJA convention were Senior Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen and Justices Henri Jean Paul B. Inting, Rodil V. Zalameda, Samuel H. Gaerlan, Jhosep Y. Lopez, and Japar B. Dimaampao.
In her message during the opening ceremony, Justice Javier said: “We were not made invincible by the title we carry. Justices and judges, while great exemplars of society, are also human beings, who at times, themselves seek relief. Indeed, we are pillars of strength, but no pillar alone held the weight of an entire building.”
“Never hesitate to ask for help. Remember that you are a member of a loving and supporting sisterhood, your very own personal angels always ready to help. As women, let us never forget our own strength, especially in dire and dark moments. Remember that women are powerful. We are transformative. We wield the power to turn all things bad into good. With us, anxiety, stress, and pressure could simply be other names for desire, drive, and ambition,” she stressed.
Department of Health (DOHJ) Undersecretary Maria Rosario Clarissa Singh-Vergeire, who was a special guest, also gave insights on the convention’s focus on women’s mental health. “We as women have to perform balancing acts such as making sure that,
as leaders, we are likable enough to be personable but not too likable lest we be seen as not competent enough for our jobs,” Vergeire said.
She also told women judges and justices: “I am sure that many of us had, at some point, felt the need to conceal our unique needs as women in our workplaces – be it about periods, pregnancy, or motherhood – in worry that we may appear softer or less adept than our male counterparts….” “All these burdens add to the stress and fatigue that women in leadership experience. Gender-related issues, stereotypes, and unfair societal expectations do not only take a toll on our mental health but our entire well-being,” she added.
The PIO said that the also special guests during the convention were Ambassador and Head of the Delegation of the European Union to the Philippines Luc Veron and Pasay City Mayor Imelda G. Calixto-Rubiano.
The PJWA also held their election. SC Justices Javier and Singh were re-elected president and executive vice president, respectively. The other elected officers were CA Associate Justice Tita Marilyn Payoyo-Villordon, Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Geraldine Faith Econg, CTA Associate Justice Ma. Belen Ringpis Liban, Judge Josefina Eco-Siscar, Judge Ma. Theresa O. Basilio, Judge Ma. Victoria Q. Padilla, Judge Percyveranda Dc. Abdon, Judge Rosalyn D. Mislos-Loja, Justice Mary Charlene V. Hernandez-Azura, Judge Anne Beatrice Aguana-Balmaceda, and Judge Rebecca Guillen-Ubaña.