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We need more women in the judiciary

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We need more women in the judiciary

“It may be the cock that crows, but it is the hen that lays eggs.”—Margaret Thatcher

I became a full-fledged lawyer in 2013, and like many freshly minted lawyers back then, I was eager to attend hearings and litigate mightily. I got to wear a long-sleeved barong, to walk into the Hall of Justice where people seemed dazed at how young a lawyer I was, to be addressed as “Attorney” by court staff and “Pañero” by the opposing counsel and the judge. Years of suffering in law school were
finally paying off…

But being the idealistic person that I am, I was greatly surprised by the reality of litigation. It was something I did not expect, especially because we were taught about legal ethics and such in law school.

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At a hearing outside Metro Manila, an accused stood trial for stealing a “magic kalan” (mini gas stove) from a sari-sari store. The courtroom was packed with curious guests, grieving complainants, handcuffed accused, police officers, court employees, and lawyers. The judge was male.

The accused was to be arraigned. Before the case was read in front of him, the judge, speaking in Filipino, asked the accused what he had stolen. All of us in the room were all ears. The accused replied shyly: “Magic kalan po.” The judge laughed, and the other lawyers laughed with him. Little did they know that the accused was forced to steal the “magic kalan” for his very ill wife and three young kids. Was it right to laugh at him? Lady Justice would have struck them with her sword, and justice would have been better served.

At a hearing in Metro Manila, I witnessed another male judge transform from very gentle to very irritated. He was examining a witness who was not only fluent in English but was also well dressed, calm and confident. It seemed like they were having a casual conversation, and the judge was gentle and considerate even if the witness was unresponsive at times. The judge even got to occasionally lead him to his desired answer.

But there was a complete turnaround when the next case was called and the next witness was told to take the stand. She was in a Sunday dress although some would consider it pambahay. Her hair was uncombed. She was with her partially blind son, who was the victim in the case. The judge already seemed annoyed when he asked his first question. The witness was obviously scared, because her voice shook. Each time she answered timidly or unresponsively, the judge launched into a tirade at her. It was a humiliating ordeal for the witness, which ended in the judge resetting the hearing. The witness was almost in tears and looked like she
did not want to continue the prosecution of the case anymore.

How different most of my experiences with female judges have been.

In a courtroom in Caloocan City to which my wife accompanied me, she marvelled at how motherly the female judge was to all the parties to the cases that she heard that day. In one case, the judge provided detailed guidelines on how the accused could engage the services of the Public Attorney’s Office. She likewise devoted a good amount of time trying to settle the next case. Normally, nonparties would get impatient when the judge spent much time on a case, but we were all attentive to her, nodding constantly to show our affirmation. I’d like to believe that that specific case has been settled by now.

When my case was called, the judge was gentle to me, mildly pointing out
my mistakes and lecturing me as if I
were her lawyer-son. My wife remarked that the integrity of our judicial system would be at an all-time high if all judges were like this judge, who embodied what Lady Justice stands for.

Just recently, at a hearing in Quezon City, the accused was being tried for stealing a chocolate bar worth P119. The memory of the “magic kalan” trial flashed in my mind. The judge, a woman, said that if she had her way, she would pay for the stolen item. Speaking in Filipino, she told the accused: I want this settled now. Go to the grocery right after the hearing and settle this out of court.

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No laughter was heard in the courtroom, only the resounding silence of admiration.

Some may argue that gender has nothing to do with the integrity of our judicial system. But only a fool would deny that women are more compassionate than men, and that compassionate justice is what’s needed in our courts. We need more women in the judiciary. That’s not just a statement, but also a plea.

Oliver Cachapero Jr. is a legal officer at the Land Bank of the Philippines and a lecturer at San Beda College.

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