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Filipino-American judge helps uphold rule of law in Guam

Bev Llorente | TFC News Guam

Posted at Nov 20 2023 05:16 PM

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In the tropical beauty of Guam’s shores and coastlines – a Filipino-American judge is upholding the law with unwavering dedication.  

She is Maria Teresa Bonifacio Cenzon, a presiding judge of the Superior Court of Guam.

Cenzon’s lineage stretches back to the Philippine revolution hero, Andres Bonifacio.

"This explains why the women in my family, from my mom's side, they are fighters," said Cenzon. "They are bold."

Guam has a unique jurisdiction geographically situated in the Western Pacific Ccean. Yet, it functions as an American territory, and adheres to federal laws of the United States.

Guam has no intermediary court and cases go directly from the trial court to its Supreme Court.

"We are known as 'America in Asia' in a lot of places," said Cenzon. "We do follow the American system of justice. But we are also a new democracy or young democracy. The courts of Guam were organized recently."

But Guam’s jurisdiction also comes with a unique set of challenges. As Cenzon emphasized, professionals leave the island for law school on the mainland, and often they no longer return to the island.

"There's a lot of opportunities in Guam as well, just kind of giving back to the community," she added. "Where you grew up where you start to have your own profession, there's a lot of potential to elevate yourself to a position that you might not reach if you are in the U.S. mainland."

Meanwhile, despite Guam’s small size and a population of 160,000 residents, Cenzon said substance abuse is a persistent issue.

Cenzon added that the judiciary of Guam focuses on treatment and investing in the defendants' rehabilitation, all while maintaining accountability.

"We have a lot of success in that area," she said. "And we hope folks that do come in who are eligible for this types of treatment also elevate themselves and become peer counselors.”

Although Guam is small in size, the island’s judicial values are deeply cherished and substantial.

Cenzon considers her decision to return to the island where she grew up in as a reflection of her dedication to giving back to the community that shaped her and refined her judicial expertise.