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Women judges outnumber their male counterparts in judiciary

By Rhaydz B. Barcia

CAMALIG, Albay --- Gone are the days when male lawyers dominated the Philippine judiciary like in previous years. The fact is based on the record of the Supreme Court that reveals the number of women judges in the country as much bigger than that of their male counterparts.

Judge Janice “Ja” Caño-Coderis, 39, a native of Tabaco City is among the 1,105 lady judges in the Philippines who was appointed to her present designation when former President Rodrigo Duterte had decided to open for occupancy the vacancies for the position of judges.

She is one of the young judges appointed in the judiciary after Duterte’s reign. Four years ago, Caño-Coderis was appointed Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC).

She graduated from the University of Santo Tomas Legazpi in 2004 for her baccalaureate degree, she took up Liberal Arts major in Political Science. She pursued her law degree at the UST in Manila.

Soon after passing the BAR examinations in 2009, she worked at the Supreme Court for few years, she decided to go back to Tabaco City in Albay to be with her family.

Judge “Ja” handles two salas as Municipal Circuit Trial Court Judge in the municipalities covering the second and third districts of the province, the towns of Camalig, Jovellar, Polangui, Oas, and Libon.

“Since President Duterte’s time in power, there were more young judges hired after he allows the mass opening of court vacancies for the position of judges,” she said.

When asked about the difference of male and female judges in handling and giving verdict, she said that male judges decide cases purely “black and white” while women judges are following the same mantra but quite compassionate in its judgement.

As of Feb. 28, 2023, there are 2,043 judges across the country. Out of 2,043 judges, 1,105 were female and 938 male.

The 1,105 lady judges and the 938 male magistrates in the country’s trial courts – from the regional trial court (RTC) to the municipal trial court (MTC) is based on the list of incumbent lady justices and judges of the Philippine Women Judges Association.

SC Justice Amy C. Lazaro Javier is the president while Justice Maria Filomena D. Singh is the executive vice president of PWJA, respectively.

However, the 15-member High Court is still male-dominated – 13 male justices and two lady jurists.

The 66-member Court of Appeals as of March 23, 2023 is headed by Presiding Justice Remedios A. Salazar-Fernando with 28 other lady magistrates.

The anti-graft court – Sandiganbayan –Justice Amparo M. Cabotaje-Tang. There are seven other lady magistrates in the anti-graft court.

The nine-member Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) is dominated by lady jurists. The only male magistrate is Presiding Justice Roman G. Del Rosario. In the second level courts, there are 531 female judges than male with 505.

Though the Regional Trial Courts (RTC) have 474 male than female with 460, FC (Statutory), 71 for female and 30 male and Shari’ah District Court, zero for female and one for male for overall, female is still highest in number with a total of 531.

In the 1st Level Courts, which covers Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) there are 76 female judges than male with 51. For Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) there are 123 female judges that male with 64. For Municipal Trial Court (MTC) there are 167 female judges compared to male with 113.

For Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) there are 183 female judges than male with 161. Though, for Shari’ah Circuit Court, the male judges outnumbered the female with 16 male and there are only three female judges or a total of 552 female judges in 1st level courts.

For Judges at-large, the Regional Trial Judges-at-Large, the male outnumbered the women with 18 while the female with 12 and municipal trial judge-at-large, 10 male and 10 female or a total of 28 males and 22 females.

Based on the commission study of gender representation and mobility in the country’s judiciary, courts in the Philippines appear to have the highest level of gender participation compared to judiciaries across the region.

However, there appears to be a stark difference between the appointments of female judges at the lower courts versus the higher courts, specifically the Supreme Court.

This empirical study on gender participation and mobility in the Philippine judiciary hierarchy from 2006 to 2020 look at gender disaggregated data collected by the Philippine judiciary from the period and examine the annual proportion of female appointed as judges in the municipal and metropolitan trial courts, regional trial courts, the Court of Appeals, the Court of Tax Appeals, the Sandiganbayan and the Supreme Court.

The study also delves into patterns of female appointments to the judiciary for almost 15 years and across court levels and identifies possible bottlenecks or barriers for female representation.

It also explores possible displays of gender preferences in appointments to the Supreme Court. The study will contribute to related literature on female participation in High Courts and its effect on judicial decision-making.

The results of the study that was commissioned by the Asia Foundation with respect to the Gender Diversity and Mobility in the Philippines Judiciary show how women judges face struggles and challenges in terms of appointment to and advancement in the judiciary hierarchy.

The study also identified some factors which create an impact on the disproportion of gender distribution within the different court levels, highlighting the encouraging increase in diversity in the trial’s courts, which, however, is not reflected in the collegiate courts specifically in the Supreme Court.

As a way of honoring the women jurists, the High Court launched the Herstory: Gender Award of Distinction to honor the exemplary performance of the women jurists.

The Supreme Court through its Committee on Gender Responsiveness in the Judiciary (CGRJ) shall give due credit and recognition to the exceptional skill and peculiar experiences of women in the judiciary who have risen above gender-based challenges.

A study on feminism in the judiciary also showed that patriarchy and masculinist norms heavily influence Philippine legal structures and demonstrate their effect on the material conditions of women including those who do not conform to hetero norms.

It said that there is a need to understand how the justice system reinforces dominant gendered and masculinist norms in Philippine society. There is also a need to identify problems at the intersection not sexuality and law to develop reforms and policies to correct gender injustice.

The court, in A. M. No. 22-02-28-SC, approved the study which will look into the courts’ interpretation of gender-responsive laws and its capacity to point out gender-responsive remedies, the awareness of gender biases, gender inequalities, and discrimination as they manifest in decision (such as stereotyping men and women, gender-based violence) and to pronounce corrective statements or measure to overcome the bias, inequalities and discriminations. The results will hopefully inform the Judiciary regarding future steps towards gender mainstreaming.

A month ago, Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo commended women justices and judges who exhibited “efficiency and resilience under uncertain circumstances and challenging conditions” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Judiciary would do well to support and recognize your accomplishments for both women and men to emulate,” Gesmundo said during the convention of the Philippine Women Judges Association (PWJA) last March 21 in Pasay City during the “Women’s Month” celebration.

The Philippine Women Judges Association Inc. has been hosting annual conventions since 1987 for women judges and justices which coincided with the International Women’s Month celebration.

This year’s celebration, Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo underscored the High Court support for women judges and justices and its exemplary accomplishments, efficiency, and resiliency in their work under challenging conditions.

Speaking before the more than 600 women judges coming from 17 regions during the 28th National Convention-Seminar of the Philippine Women Judges Association (PWJA), held in Pasay City, the High Court Chief led the Supreme Court in expressing its full support for women magistrates, stating, “You, our women justices and judges, have exhibited efficiency and resilience in your work, during the pandemic, under uncertain circumstances and challenging conditions. The Judiciary would do well to support and recognize your accomplishments for both women and men to emulate.”

The SC, according to Gesmundo, is committed to give all the support it can to the magistrates, women and men, so they may develop coping mechanisms, improve personal development skills, and realize their full potential, as the Court moves toward greater speed, efficiency, and innovation in its operations and processes.

“Cognizant of the important role that mental health plays in our lives, whether at home, school, or workplace, the Supreme Court, as part of its reform agenda, the Strategic Plan for Judicial Innovations 2022-2027 or SPJI, will institutionalize a health insurance system for officials and employees,” he said.

“Free or subsidized annual physical and mental health examinations will be mandated. Mental Health Units will also be established in all court levels in our judicial regions around the country,” he said.

He noted that last October, the SC convened the SC’s Governing Council on Mental Health, and launched the SC Mental Health Unit and Mental Health Helpline a few months after.

“We need to recognize that taking care of mental health is not a luxury, but a necessity for all individuals. This means providing resources to help our judges manage their mental health, whether through counselling services, mindfulness training, or other forms of support,” he stressed.

Gesmundo also underscored the need to address the systemic issues that contribute to mental health challenges for women judges, including “gender biases that still exist in the legal profession and ensuring that women have equal opportunities for advancement and leadership positions.”

“We had approved our first ever organic guidelines for the use of gender-fair language and courtroom etiquette in the judiciary. We have also approved the study on feminism in Philippine jurisprudence, which seeks to make a qualitative analysis of gender themes and philosophies, as well as any gap and inconsistency, in local precedents,” the country’s chief magistrate said.

“This will help greatly in identifying points for re-study and reconstruction, and inform our way forward in adjudicating gender-related issues. In addition, we reconstituted and strengthened our Committee on Decorum and Investigation of Sexual Harassment Cases, or CODI, in all levels of our courts and in all administrative offices,” he added.

Under the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw), the state has the obligation to ensure the “equal rights of men and women to enjoy all economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights.”

Cedaw clearly declares that discrimination against women violates the fundamental principles of equality of rights and respect for human dignity.

The Philippines ratified Cedaw on Aug. 5, 1981 and has since been securing more opportunities for women.


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