MANILA - A Filipino lawyer who completed the Master of Laws program of Harvard Law School is advocating for reforms in the Philippine judiciary to make it "independent and incorruptible".
Anna Teresita Marcelo, 32, who obtained her J.D from the Ateneo Law School and then completed the Master of Laws program of Harvard Law School in May last year, laments that "the Philippines continues to suffer from widespread public dissatisfaction over judicial administration."
"The Philippine judiciary plays a pertinent role in the fortification of democratic principles and civil liberties... I have pursued consistent advocacy for the institution of judicial reform mechanisms with the ultimate hope of establishing an independent and incorruptible justice system," Marcelo told ABS-CBN News.
"This is undoubtedly an area of reform that remains underdeveloped in the Philippines," she said.
Greatly influenced by her lawyer father, who, according to her, was dedicated to upholding and protecting the rule of law, Marcelo developed a passion for the legal profession at a young age.
Her father, Simeon Marcelo, was the principal private prosecutor in the impeachment case of Former President Joseph Estrada. He also served as the country’s Solicitor General and Ombudsman and was previously appointed as a member of the World Bank’s Independent Advisory Board.
Her grandfather further inspired her belief in using law as a tool for social change and public service, she said.
"My grandfather, who served as a prosecutor and justice of the court, likewise had a significant impact when it came to my decision to pursue law... My grandfather always made it a point to emphasize how important it was to serve our country and to use the law as a mechanism for good and social change,” Marcelo said.
After graduating from the Ateneo, where she finished top 3 of her batch, Marcelo said she worked as an associate at SyCipLaw and served as a law clerk at the Supreme Court under some justices.
During her law school days, she studied Philippine legal proceedings and questioned Supreme Court decisions that for her lacked due process.
As a law clerk at the Supreme Court, she said she was integral in drafting decisions and resolutions on complex cases, contributing to forming jurisprudence.
“In law school, I dedicated my time to mastering Philippine legal proceedings. For my thesis, which was published in the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Journal, I questioned Supreme Court decisions that failed to accord due process to the interested parties,” Marcelo said.
She also taught law in such institutions as the Centro Escolar University School of Law and Jurisprudence, and De La Salle University Tañada-Diokno College.
Marcelo said her specialization is in litigation and arbitration.
PURSUING HER ADVOCACY
Seeking concrete solutions to the judicial reform challenges in the Philippines, Marcelo said she pursued a Master of Laws at Harvard Law School, which, along with her experience practicing law in the United States, have sharpened her ability to analyze and advocate for judicial reform.
“With its powerful academic thrust on a multitude of legal disciplines, I felt that it was only through the Master of Laws program of Harvard Law School that I would be able to arrive at concrete solutions to the judicial reform problems plaguing the Philippines,” she said.
Marcelo's ultimate goal is to establish a national judicial reform center in collaboration with the Philippine Judicial Department.
She also aims to introduce judicial reform courses in academia. She said she aspires to bring the knowledge and insights from her international experience back to her home country, starting at the grassroots level.
WOMEN IN THE LEGAL PROFESSION
Meanwhile, Marcelo acknowledges the challenges women lawyers encounter in the field.
“Unfortunately, the problems of gender bias, stereotyping, unequal pay, penalties for being a mother, and harassment in the workplace continue to be major problems that women lawyers face,” she said.
Her advice to women with dreams of becoming lawyers and driving societal transformation: "Never doubt yourself. You are more capable than you think. The fight for social justice and change is an ongoing battle. Do not be discouraged when your efforts seem futile."
"Though the world is plagued by trials and injustices, it should not deter us from striving for a better world—a world that upholds freedom, justice, equality, and peace," she added.
“Every effort, no matter how small, is significant, and we must resist the temptation of merely accepting that the world is naturally unjust.”
- Ian Jay Capati, ABS-CBN News Intern
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