Judicial Reform Program Administrator (JRPA) Geraldine Faith A. Econg, the new chief of the Program Management Office (PMO), is anything but typical.
Consider these: she once chased down an accused eluding arrest in her judicial robes; she is “green” – not one with a dirty mind – but an advocate for environment; and she is an active reformist, who thinks out of the box and goes out of her way to effect real and meaningful changes.
JRPA Econg, 42, was presiding judge of Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 9 in Cebu City when she applied for the position of JRPA. She has been a judge for eight years and has been involved in the judicial reform program since 2005, when she was then Acting Executive Judge of the Lapu-Lapu City RTC.
Her stint in the Judiciary was, however, accidental and being a lawyer was not her first ambition in life. “I wanted to be a teacher,” said JRPA Econg. “It was only when I got involved in debating at school that my interest in becoming a lawyer developed.”
JRPA Econg took up Philosophy at the College at University San Carlos in Cebu and graduated magna cum laude. She also obtained her Bachelor of Laws degree, also cum laude, in the same university. She placed 15th in the Bar examinations in 1993.
She has been a practice lawyer for five years when the opportunity to become a judge opened before her. She was having lunch with a friend in a hotel in Cebu City when the late Atty. Luzviminda D. Puno, then Clerk of Court of the Supreme Court, invited walk-in applicants for judge positions as the interviewees who were supposed to meet the JBC panel that day failed to show up because of a storm.
“I was inappropriately dressed (in shorts and plain shirt) but Atty. Puno said she would do the explaining to the JBC members,” said JRPA Econg, who eventually was appointed presiding judge of the Municipal Trial Court in Minglanilla, Cebu.
Econg recalls a funny experience as a judge. In one of her court hearings, an accused ran away after she had ordered the cancellation of the bail and ordered his arrest. Instinctively, she gave chase and asked a clueless policeman standing by to help her arrest the man. She was running a good two blocks already when the chasing policeman looked back and asked, “Judge, who are we trying to catch?” It dawned on her that she was still dressed in her judicial robes. She literally gave up the chase and had a good laugh about the situation. “I laughed because I thought it was like a scene out of a cartoon movie,” she said.
It is no laughing matter, however, when one talks about her achievements. Aside from being a judge, she is an Accredited Associate Mediator of the Singapore Mediation Centre. She also specialized in Environmental Law and is a Certified Environmental Manager.
“My fascination with environmental law began when I was a practicing lawyer because most of my clients were mining, quarry, and cement companies. When I joined the Judiciary in 2002, it was in fact my dream to become a leading environmental jurist,” she revealed.
While in the Judiciary, she never stopped learning by taking up courses in international criminal law, human rights law, trial court governance and leadership, case flow management, and procurement and program management.
Her wealth of knowledge and experience indeed makes her worthy of holding the JRPA post. She said her experience as a judge gives her an advantage in performing this new role because she has “first-hand knowledge of the challenges, needs, potentials, strengths and weaknesses of the trial court personnel, which is the backbone of the Judiciary.”
According to her, the most pressing concern that the judicial reform should prioritize is unclogging the court dockets. She said that improving the financial and administrative structure of the courts, computerizing case management, and strengthening the capacity, competence, and integrity of court personnel would help solve this perennial problem.
Like all other judges, she said she wants judicial reforms to happen immediately. But she admitted that “there is still so much things to be done in order to truly improve the delivery of justice.”
Asked about her long-term vision for the judicial reform program, she said: “The program needs to be assessed. We have to pick up from the assessment and the vision of the next Chief Justice.”
JRPA Econg’s commitment to succeed in her endeavors is unquestionable. She stood firm when there were doubts that the planned Pilot Model Court in Lapu-Lapu City would ever be constructed. She took time out as the acting executive judge to secure the torrens title of the site and made it her personal mission to see the plan come into fruition. She made believers out of the doubters when the modern Lapu-Lapu City Hall of Justice was inaugurated in 2007.
Her devotion to her duty also meant making personal sacrifices. Moving to the PMO with its office in Manila entails a lot of adjustment for her as she will leave her family behind in Cebu City.
“I shall not make my sacrifices and the sacrifices of my family become useless,” she vowed.
No wonder then Faith is in her name.