“At this point in our history, I lead a strong and united Court that is firmly committed to protect the rule of law, to guarantee the rights of our people, and to honor our obligations to the larger community of nations. The Philippine Supreme Court stands in unity with our ASEAN neighbors in our common quest for the best possible future for our region,” Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo assured his counterparts during the 9th Meeting of the Council of ASEAN Chief Justices (CACJ) held on October 7, 2021.
The annual Meeting, held online for the second consecutive year, was hosted by the Judiciary of Indonesia. Its focal point was the signing of the Jakarta Declaration by all 10 ASEAN Member States.
Under the Jakarta Declaration, the members agreed “that a taskforce be established within the ASEAN Judiciaries Portal (AJP) Working Group to consider the issues involved in using social media as an additional platform for engagement with the public and wider international community, and for the said taskforce to report on its progress and recommendations at the next CACJ meeting,” among others.
The member Judiciaries also agreed in the Declaration that the respective CACJ Working Groups shall consider and deliberate on the working drafts of the Model Rule on the Taking of Evidence for Foreign Proceedings in Civil or Commercial Matters and AI Governance Framework on the Use of Artificial Intelligence for the ASEAN Judiciaries. The final drafts will be submitted in the next CACJ meeting.
Furthermore, it was agreed that the Working Group on ASEAN+ Meetings shall “engage with the Judiciaries of the People’s Republic of China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea in the areas of (a) legal knowledge and experience; (b) court technology and its implementation in court tasks; (c) further cooperation on legal education; (d) capacity-building of court personnel; and (e) mutual sharing of best practices and exchange of legal information, as well as identify suitable means of such engagement with a view to holding the inaugural ASEAN+ Meeting with representatives of their judiciaries on the side-lines of the CACJ meeting in 2022.”
Apart from Chief Justice Gesmundo, the other signatories to the Declaration were Chief Justice Steven Chong Wan Oon of Brunei Darussalam; Deputy Chief Justice YOU Ottara of the Kingdom of Cambodia; Chief Justice Muhammad Syariffudin of Indonesia; President Viengthong Siphandone of the People’s Supreme Court of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun binti Tuan Mat of the Federal Court of Malaysia; Chief Justice Htun Htun Oo of the Supreme Court of the Union of Myanmar; Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon of the Republic of Singapore; President Piyakul Boonperm of the Supreme Court of the Kingdom of Thailand; and Chief Justice Nguyen Hoa Binh of the Supreme People’s Court of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Consistent with the Council’s objective of maintaining and strengthening international partnerships and regional solidarity among the Judiciaries of ASEAN Member States, the CACJ remained active and operational despite the pandemic. All the CACJ Working Groups met virtually throughout the year to deliver their respective reports during yesterday’s Meeting.
Acknowledging the continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the ASEAN region, the members shared their respective country’s response to the pandemic and their crisis management experiences.
Chief Justice Gesmundo gave an update on the steps taken by the Philippine Judiciary to address the health needs of the court officials and employees, such as setting up an alternative quarantine facility for affected court officials and employees at the Supreme Court Compound, and the complementary vaccination drive spearheaded by Senior Associate Justice Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe, which has achieved 95% completion of vaccinations for all SC employees and will be continued to target the vaccination of lower court judges and personnel.
All members agreed under the Jakarta Declaration “for all ASEAN Judiciaries to consider uploading, with the assistance of the CACJ Secretariat, regular updates on their respective crisis management experience and COVID-19 related measures on the AJP.”
Chief Justice Gesmundo also underscored how he enjoined Philippine judges to adopt prioritization. “I cautioned them to manage their time effectively and give primacy to cases involving women and children; prerogative writs; economic- impact cases; cases that involve priority government infrastructure projects; and, case incidents that affect the liberty of the accused in criminal cases, and the integrity and dignity of human life in all cases,” said the Chief Justice.
“I also exhorted judges to optimize alternative dispute resolution, instruct[ing] the Philippine Mediation Center Office and Management Information Service Office to ensure that both Court-Annexed Mediation and Judicial Dispute Resolution are made available through videoconferencing facilities in all our 13 judicial regions,” Chief Justice Gesmundo shared.
As Co-Chairperson of the Working Group on Cross-Border Disputes Involving Children, Senior Associate Justice Perlas-Bernabe reported to the Council that the Supreme Court of the Philippines has approved the Rules on Action for Support and Petitions for Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments on Support in March 2021, and that the same took effect on May 31, 2021.
Joining Chief Justice Gesmundo at the Meeting were Senior Associate Justice Perlas-Bernabe, Justice Henri Jean Paul B. Inting, Justice Rodil V. Zalameda, Justice Mario V. Lopez, Justice Samuel H. Gaerlan, Justice Ricardo R. Rosario, Justice Jhosep Y. Lopez, and Justice Japar B. Dimaampao.
Philippine Judicial Academy Vice Chancellor and retired Supreme Court Justice Mariano C. del Castillo, who is the Co-Chairperson of CACJ Working Group on Judicial Education and Training, and Court of Appeals Justice Maria Filomena Singh of the PhilJA Committee on Curriculum Review likewise participated in the event.
Also present were Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez; Chief of Public Information Office and Assistant Court Administrator Brian Keith F. Hosaka; Deputy Clerk of Court and Judicial Reform Program Administrator Atty. Laura C.H. Del Rosario; Chief of PhilJA Research and Linkages Office Dean Sedfrey M. Candelaria; and Deputy Clerk of Court and Chief Attorney Maria Victoria Gleoresty Sp. Guerra, Member of the SC Permanent Secretariat for CACJ Affairs.
The 10th and 11th CACJ Meetings will be hosted by the Judiciaries of Malaysia and Myanmar, respectively.