ABA ROLI in Partnership with the Supreme Court of the Philippines Concluded the Series of Training on the 2019 Amendments to the Rules of Civil Procedure and the Rules on Evidence Reaching Over 1500 Judges

The Supreme Court of the Philippines through the Philippine Judicial Academy (PHILJA) concluded the 17th and final session of the Training on the Revised Rules of Civil Procedure and Evidence on September 23 to 24, 2021 via video conferencing. The training series that commenced in September 2020 formed part of the collaboration between the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and the Supreme Court under ABA ROLI’s Access to Justice and Support for the Rule of Law Program supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The year-long series of 17 seventeen training sessions on Civil Procedure and Evidence began in September 2020, after initial COVID-19 related delays, and benefited more than 1,500 judges from 70 of the Philippines 81 provinces. Judges included those from first level courts, (metropolitan courts, municipal courts, circuit courts), and judges from second level courts or regional trial courts.

Also in support of the judges’ training, ABA ROLI worked with the Supreme Court in the printing of 400 copies of the 2019 Amendments to Rules of Civil Procedure and the Rules on Evidence which were launched online in August 2020 by then Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta. Court Administrator Atty. Midas Marquez in the media launch of the guidelines thanked USAID and ABA ROLI for the support, the Rules of Civil Procedure were last amended in April 1997 while the Rules on Evidence were last amended in 1989 or more than 2 decades and 3 decades respectively.

The session opened with welcoming remarks from the Executive Secretary of the PHILJA Hon. Ma. Luisa Quijano-Padilla, who underlined the critical role this training provided— which was to address the twin problems of docket congestion and delay by ensuring more efficient court proceedings while also taking into consideration advances in technology. Justice Quijano-Padilla called for the pro-active role of the members of the bench to provide equal access to justice for every litigant. She concluded with a statement expressing appreciation to USAID and ABA ROLI in supporting initiatives that promote court efficiency.

Ms. Susan Cowley, Country Director for ABA ROLI in the Philippines provided remarks and congratulated the leaders of the Philippine judiciary in the successful completion of the training series and for their reform-minded approach in advancing the important updates to the rules of civil procedure and evidence despite the enormous challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic . Ms. Cowley thanked Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo for the continuing partnership with ABA ROLI and Retired Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta for his tireless work during his term in improving the country’s judicial system. She also acknowledged the dedication of Filipino judges to provide better access to justice by participating in critical learning initiatives of the Supreme Court.

The final training session was attended by first level court judges stationed from Valenzuela City, Malabon City, Navotas City, Northern Mindanao, and the Ilocos Region in northern Philippines.

To find out how the training was received, ABA ROLI spoke to two Executive Judges who participated in the training, Hon. Rofebar Gerona in Sorsogon City and Hon. Cecilyn Burgos-Villabert based in Quezon City. Judge Rofebar Gerona of Regional Trial Court Branch 53 in Sorsogon City thanked both the court, and ABA ROLI for the initiative.

He said, “Judges greatly appreciate that the Supreme Court and ABA ROLI made remote learning available.”

He further stated that with virtual participation now possible, members of the bench can focus on learning from the expert lectures without worrying about their health. He expressed hope that the same can be made available to members of the bar.

Hon. Cecilyn Burgos-Villabert, Executive Judge of Quezon City, shared the same insights on the link between access to justice and technology.

“We should adjust to technology for better access to justice by the different court users. The Supreme Court did that, and is still doing it because we are still under the pandemic.”

In her Court even prior to COVID-19, mechanisms such as “eCourts” and “eSubpoena” were already available. These innovations were introduced by ABA ROLI’s USAID-funded JUSTICE Project.

“Because of this pandemic, there has been a sudden shift, a proper adjustment on the use of technology.”

In addition, Judge Villavert pointed out that the current practices on electronic filing of pleadings and videoconferencing are necessary to ensure the safety of parties in interest and court personnel. While expressing preference for the more traditional face-to-face meetings, with the exception of certain proceedings where in-person hearings are imperative, Judge Villavert believes that technology in courts is here to stay particularly because it promotes efficient use of time.

ABA ROLI will continue to work in partnership with the Supreme Court on various reform initiatives under the USAID-funded ACCESS Program, including increasing the Court’s capacity to hold remote hearings by providing videoconferencing equipment to ten courts in the National Capital Region.

Learn more about ABA ROLI’s work across Asia & the Pacific.