MANILA, Philippines – Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, one of the nominees for Chief Justice, is hoping that more female judges and justices are appointed to the courts.
De Castro, who is also the president of the Philippine Women Judges Association (PWJA), said a big gap exists between the ratio of male and female judges in the country.
“Sana marami pang ma-appoint na lady judges. We have only 609 lady judges and justices from the highest court down. This comprises about 33% of entire membership of the Judiciary. In that area, there can still be room for improvement,” de Castro told the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) on Thursday.
The SC justice praised the “diligent” members of the PWJA and cited their significance in helping implement reform projects in the Judiciary.
“I don’t have any gender-bias against male judges. I’m just saying that from my experience, I feel fulfilled working with the lady judges. I would not have been elected as president of the International Association of Women Judges if it was not for the cooperation that I got from the members of the PWJA. Many of them are very diligent, capable and dedicated to their work,” she said.
“The Supreme Court can utilize this spirit of cooperation of the women judges in the implementation of our judicial reform projects in the Supreme Court,” she added.
In her 20 years of experience in the Judiciary, de Castro said the congestion of cases in court dockets remains to be its biggest problem.
De Castro noted that from 400,000 cases in the 1970s, the number has nearly doubled to 700,000 today.
If ever she is appointed Chief Justice, her top priority is to improve the system in settlement of cases.
“While we have been implementing reforms, I believe that we need to do more. There are a lot of measures that we can undertake to make sure that we can speedily dispense justice. We can look at the rules of procedure and see how we can reform our court procedure to be able to speed up the disposition of cases,” she said.
She also said the mediation process in the country is still in its early stages and needs to be improved.
“I am a keen advocate of this alternative dispute resolution mechanism because I myself experienced how this can de-clog the court docket and how mediators can not only settle dispute but also ensure peace in our society,” she said.
De Castro noted that the country’s judicial system is contributing to delays in resolving cases, adding that political will is needed to implement change.
“There are so many ways of improving justice, making it more speedy, making it more efficient and we just need to have political will to be able to do it,” she said.
De Castro also said she does not believe that there is hesitation among the justices of the Supreme Court in releasing their Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN).
“I don’t think there is hesitance because when I was appointed to the Supreme Court, there were already old guidelines. There is greater demand now for transparency and accountability and I believe we should give in to popular demand and lay everything out, anyway we are not hiding anything from the public,” she said.
When asked how she would lead the Supreme Court if she is appointed Chief Justice, de Castro said she will promote an independent and efficient court “where integrity is upheld.”
“I want members of the court to be remembered as models of exemplary behavior and decency,” she said
She also said she will lead a Judiciary that is dedicated to the rule of law regardless of personal opinion.
“I will be guided by the principles of the former chief justices and that is dedication and adherence to judicial independence. A judiciary that is efficient, competent that is able to earn trust the confidence of people and which is humane and compassionate,” she said.
She added that she believes she is morally fit and ready to be the next Chief Justice. She noted that moral fitness isn't only about obeying the law.
“You should transcend that, you must see to it that actions are proper, decent and that you don't go beyond the bounds of ethics. It’s not enough to say that you are obeying the law,” she said.
De Castro is the third most senior associate justice of the Supreme Court and was automatically nominated for the post of Chief Justice.
She was previously shortlisted for the Chief Justice position in 2010 but was not chosen.