The American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), led by Country Director Mr. Peter Mackenzie and Mr. Ryan Washburn the Mission Director of the United States Agency for International Development, met with Chief Justice Hon. Alexander G. Gesmundo on April 7, 2022 for the formal handover of videoconferencing equipment (VCE) provided to 10 trial courts. The VCE sets were provided by ABA ROLI under the five-year Access to Justice and Support for the Rule of Law (ACCESS) program supported by USAID. The beneficiary courts include Regional Trial Court branches in the cities of Pasay, Quezon, Manila, and Taguig, as well as Metropolitan Trial Court branches in the cities of Valenzuela, Caloocan, and Las Pinas.
ABA ROLI provided this VCE in support of the Supreme Court’s efforts to digitalize court processes, a stated priority of Chief Justice Gesmundo. During the pandemic, lockdowns severely limited courts’ ability to conduct normal proceedings in person. COVID-related health protocols have placed a particular burden on persons deprived of liberty, many of whom have been unable to participate directly in hearings related to their cases. In December 2020, the Supreme Court institutionalized the use of videoconferencing technology in court hearings to improve courts’ efficiency in handling cases and to make them more accessible to all participants in court cases.
Participants at the handover ceremony included Associate Justices Ramon Paul L. Hernando, Jose Midas P. Marquez, and Justice Antonio T. Kho, Jr. The USAID contingent included Mission Director Mr. Ryan Washburn; Acting Deputy Mission Director Mr. Jeff Goebel; and Senior Democracy, Rights, and Governance Specialist Mr. Gerardo Porta. Also present at the event were Philippine Judicial Academy Chancellor Rosmari D. Carandang, Court Administrator Raul B. Villanueva, Assistant Court Administrator Brian Keith F. Hosaka, Deputy Clerk of Court and Judicial Reform Program Administrator Laura C.H. Del Rosario, and Deputy Clerk of Court and Chief Technology Officer Jed Sherwin G. Uy.
During the handover ceremony, Chief Justice Gesmundo accepted the VCE on behalf of the judiciary. In his remarks, Chief Justice Gesmundo conveyed his appreciation for ABA ROLI and USAID’s support through the ACCESS program, and he emphasized that the equipment will enhance litigants access to justice virtually. ABA ROLI’s Country Director in the Philippines Peter Mackenzie emphasized that by providing the VCE, ABA ROLI aims to “strengthen access to justice for litigants, including persons deprived of liberty whose cases were impacted by delays due to the pandemic, and sectors with similar predicaments who can benefit from the availability of remote conferencing.”