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Gesmundo’s legacy: Four years of unrelenting judicial reforms

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“Chief Justice Gesmundo wants nothing but reform, reform, reform – in the Supreme Court, in the entire judiciary, in the way justice is rendered in this country”

We paid a courtesy call on Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo on Wednesday morning at his Supreme Court board room.

It was a very educational and illuminating meeting for me, personally, and for us, in the Manila Overseas Press Club.

With me in the meeting were MOPC governors led by President Eric Canoy, the CEO of Radio Mindanao Network; Yoly Crisanto, senior vice president of Globe Telecom; Atty. Mike Toledo, head for government relations of the Metro Pacific Investments Corp., the conglomerate that owns Meralco, Maynilad Water Services, MWell, and the tollways NLEX, SCTex, Cavitex, and Calax; and former Estrada Cabinet secretary Jaime Policarpio.

The chief justice was with Supreme Court spokesman Justice Brian Hosaka. Gesmundo, Hosaka and Policarpio are Ateneo Law alumni, as do six other justices of the Supreme Court today.

Chief Justice Gesmundo is the guest of honor and speaker in today’s (Jan. 27) MOPC “Judiciary Night” at the Raffles Hotel in Makati.

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He is expected to tackle the largest ever judiciary reform effort this country has ever seen. He will be joined by several high court justices.

The Jan. 25 courtesy call was expected to last at most 30 minutes. It ran for an hour and 20 minutes.

Chief Justice Gesmundo wants nothing but reform, reform, reform – in the Supreme Court, in the entire judiciary, in the way justice is rendered in this country.

The Chief has defined what is justice.  He vows justice – one that is timely and fair, transparent and accountable, equal and inclusive, and techno savvy.

To do that, he needs two things – connectivity and digitalization, now, yesterday.

He asked Globe’s Yoly Crisanto and PLDT Smart Group’s Toledo for nationwide connectivity – one that is fast, reliable, efficient and reasonably cost, so the entire court system could speed up disposition of cases; so judges, litigants and witnesses would not need to be physically present in court rooms.

“You are a duopoly,” the genial Chief joked. He also asked for help to digitalize court documents, processes, and systems. And to facilitate payments.

Globe’s Gcash is the largest payments system in the Philippines today, with easily P3 trillion in annual transactions. PLDT Smart also has PayMaya which has been licensed as a digital bank.

The Chief is also concerned about health care for the judiciary’s 30,000-strong personnel.

During the two years of the pandemic, Gesmundo ordered the setting up of a virtual hospital in the Supreme Court’s Padre Faura premises to attend to sick court personnel and their families.

In this regard, the MPIC can probably help own the largest hospital chain in the Philippines, 20 hospitals, the best – but also the most expensive. MPIC also has a growing health care app.

Gesmundo will be chief justice in the next four years – during which one can expect the most extensive and frenetic reforms ever undertaken in the 125 year-old Supreme Court.

In a special en banc session on Oct. 14, 2022, the Supreme Court launched the Judiciary’s long-term reform program, the Strategic Plan for Judicial Innovations 2022-2027 (SPJI).

The SPJI is the action plan to address institutional challenges using four guiding principles. Justice must be: 

(1) Timely and fair,

(2) Transparent and accountable,

(3) Equal and inclusive, and

(4) Technology adaptive.

Steered by these guiding principles, the Court targets three major outcomes: Efficiency, Innovation, and Access.

“Today, a century and about a quarter after its establishment, the Supreme Court opens its doors to take its place at the forefront of life as Filipinos know it. Today we remove the shroud that has enveloped our officials and systems in a haze of misperceptions and incomprehension, and present to you in clear and indelible terms what we envision, what we have planned, and what we target to accomplish for our citizenry, and the methodologies we will adopt to achieve our objectives,” gushed  Chief Justice Gesmundo at the stirring launch of the SPJI.

The chief justice stressed the SPJI is the product of the collective efforts of all the 15 Supreme Court Justices, who are all equally invested in the SPJI, guaranteeing the SPJI’s continuity.

“Even after I leave in 2026, even when only the four youngest members of the Court remain until 2036, the SPJI will remain relevant,” Chief Justice Gesmundo predicted.

“With the SPJI, we honor the contributions of those who blazed the trail towards reform ahead of us, by building on the foundations they have worked hard and laid ahead,” said the Chief Justice.

“We must once and for all rid ourselves of the “I” mentality “I did this,” “I did that,” which forces us to minimize, if not reject outright, the ideas and the contributions of others who came before us,” Gesmundo added.

As the Court’s “blueprint for action,” the SPJI will continue to evolve through consultations and discussions with stakeholders.

“We are not pushing programs down the throats of our judges and personnel, much less our court users,” said the Chief Justice.

“The SPJI will engage all stakeholders to make every single one of these programs viable, workable,and reasonable so that they will be easy to embrace and adopt,” he clarified.

The Chief  Justice encourages all stakeholders to invest their time and effort in the SPJI.

“I have no doubt that [the SPJI] is our only bridge to a tomorrow that will usher in the advent of responsive and timely justice for the Filipino people,” he concluded.

Senior Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen has noted the launch of the SPJI is “far from just being symbolic. It is our way of promulgating and thus uttering in a public and formal special session a plan of action that we have collectively and collegially agreed upon for the next five years from 2022 to 2027…

“By promulgating and making [the SPJI] public, we invite cooperation, discussion, and even critique.”

Leonen added: “The plan of action expresses how we are to arrive at achieving the implicit goals and values contained in our Constitution specifically using our role as a constitutional department to achieve the task set out for us under Article 8 of [the Constitution].”

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