The Philippine Judicial Academy (PhilJA), in partnership with the United States Department of Justice Criminal Division, has launched its first formal efforts to build capacity among judges in the country to appreciate legal and human rights issues in resolving cases dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE). Directly in charge was the Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and training (OPDAT), the department of the US foreign service that provides aid for recipient governments to enhance justice systems.
In a whole-day seminar, titled Roundtable Discussion: Knowledge Sharing on the Protection of the Rights of the LGBT Sector, about a dozen judges from different parts of the Philippines participated in the first interactive learning experience ever among Filipino judges beginning to grasp crucial aspects of SOGIE pertaining to handling cases and dispensing justice for affected citizens. Hon. Maria Rowena Modesto San Pedro, the judge who hails from the Regional Trial Court of Pasig, moderated and synthesized the proceedings.
The morning session started briefing the judges on the basic introduction to SOGIE provided by Dr. Slyvia Estrada-Claudio of the University of the Philippines and Mary Gyknell Tangente, advocacy officer of GALANG Philippines.
Atty. Raymond Alikpala, third nominee of the Ladlad Partylist and also its legal counsel, presented a substantial framework of international and local jurisprudence in the session Rights of the LGBT: Mainstreaming of Human Rights Concerns through the Yogyakarta Principles. He proposed many of the groundbreaking jurisprudence from Supreme Courts of countries as diverse as the US and India as resources that can help Filipino judges make rulings that can incorporate the fundamental SOGIE-based legal and human rights nuances.
Also extensively discussed were the landmark ruling of the Philippines High Court that overturned the Commission on Election’s disqualification of Ladlad as a political party, and the granting of legal gender change for an intersexed male from the birth-assigned female gender.
Oscar Atadero of ProGay Philippines assisted in presenting potential legal questions arising from everyday human rights violations experienced by LGBTs. Citing this year’s research on violence and discrimination against Filipino lesbian, bisexual and transgender women spearheaded by the Rainbow Rights Project (R-Rights), where he is also a program manager, Atadero made the case of presenting numerous data on the lack of access to justice that hampers the filing of court cases by potential complainants.
Hon. Geraldine Faith Econg, a member of the Supreme Court’s Committee on Gender Responsiveness, together with Ging Cristobal of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), presented a rundown of the laws that applied to LGBTS. This was followed by an analysis of local court cases involving transgender, gay and lesbian issues, which was presented by Professor Myrna Feliciano, the chair legal research department of PhilJA.
Pamela Pontius, the political section officer of the US Embassy in Manila, was on hand to deliver the message of support and field questions from the judges about the future prospects of downstream programs that can ensue from this groundbreaking activity.
The judges who participated in this initial program expressed sincere interest in involving themselves in further studies as they realized that the one-day period devoted for the variety of topics on this novel field of study was very short. They recommended making the training available to more judges in more jurisdictions.