The virtual launching of the project, “Securing Justice through Technology” and the forum on “Access to Justice Amid the Global Health Crisis”, was attended by an astounding number of more than 800 participants via Zoom, plus hundreds more watching through Facebook live, in the morning of December 20, 2021. The event was graced by Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo, Vice President of the National Center for State Courts in Arlington, VA, USA, Jeffrey Apperson, and McCain Global Leader of Myanmar, Zaw Tu Hkwang. Hosted by the college’s Dean, Atty. Annabelle B. Cañazares-Mindalano, this two-part program of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), in partnership with the US Embassy in the Philippines and the International Visitors Leadership Program Alumni, advocated for the use of the internet and technology amidst the pandemic to enhance the delivery of justice through its legal aid hubs.
Presenting the project’s salient features is its lead proponent, the Presiding Judge of the 3rd Municipal Circuit Trial Court of Impasugong, Sumilao, Bukidnon, and MSU alumna, Judge Jerlie Luis Requerme. Securing Justice Through Technology provides two key components. First, the establishment of Access to Justice (A2J) hubs in six pilot areas in the country – three of which are in Mindanao (Lanao del Sur, Malaybalay and Impasug-ong Bukidnon), two in Visayas (Samar & Bacolod), and one in Luzon (Cagayan). Second, strengthening the informal justice system in two pilot areas (Lanao del Sur and Bukidnon). The A2J Hubs will leverage and integrate technology in legal processes and create relevant efficiencies for the judiciary.
The Sarimanok Virtual Law Clinic (SVLC) of MSU College of Law was cited as one of the benchmark programs in the launching. It even shared its protocols during the forum. As one of its partner law schools, MSU Law through its Clinical Legal Education Program (CLEP), shall provide legal services through the A2J Hubs online or face-to-face if permitted by the current protocols. Students can serve the underprivileged whilst honing their skills under the project. SVLC President, Audrey Kwan, was also active in asking the kind of assistance the Secure Justice Project will provide in relation to the legal clinic’s advocacy for the legal empowerment of the people of Mindanao, considering the conservative culture of the people in the region.
The participants of the forum on “Access to Justice Amid the Global Health Crisis” all shared the same sentiment – that the most vulnerable sectors’ access to justice had already been a challenge on its own. However, with the prolonged duration of the COVID-19 pandemic and its detrimental effects to society, these existing challenges were exacerbated, making it necessary for the judiciary to adapt new ways and processes to help strengthen the justice system. Indeed, the pandemic is not merely a health and social crisis, but also a thorn to the justice system which disrupts the operation of courts. With high hopes, the hubs will effect a more responsive justice system and a more inclusive community in these trying times.
Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo, a keynote speaker of the program, believes that the traditional models and methods of administering justice no longer suffice. The judiciary, in order to guarantee the seamless delivery of justice despite multiple hindrances that have emerged due to the imposition of lockdowns and community quarantine restrictions, has gone through a rapid digital transformation through its ICT projects. While it was initially an arduous venture for the courts who were accustomed to their manual ways and procedures, the judiciary has nonetheless proved its resilience by adapting and responding to the ever-changing needs of society and rising above the challenges brought by the pandemic.
News and Update by: Michelle Mae Roque, Contributor
Edited by: Gabriel Joseph M. Esporsado, Editor-in-chief