Associate Justice Singh on Swordsmanship and Lifelong Learning

“Let’s start.”

A short but weighty phrase and a call to action similar to saying “Challenge accepted”. That was the message from Associate Supreme Court Justice Maria Filomena “Monette” Singh to her fellow justices.

In March 2021, then Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals Singh was awarded the Metrobank Foundation Professorial Chair in Law in the 17th Metrobank Foundation Professorial Chair – making her the first-ever female law holder. chair in the program’s 19-year history.

Singh took to the podium to deliver her lecture, titled “Wielding the Sword: The Role of Judicial Education in the Administration of Justice,” with palpable certainty and passion not only for those in the session hall of the Supreme Court, but even for those watching. from their screens. Anchored in Singh’s advocacy, this morning’s agenda focused on the sword-sharpening and shield-building roles of judicial training to arm judges in the swift and effective administration of justice.

“Now more than ever, public confidence in the justice system is crucial if the third branch of government is to fulfill its role as the last bastion of law and justice. To resurrect such public confidence, it is essential to inspire confidence in our judicial officers”, she declared.

With that, she recommended crucial avenues the Philippine judiciary can take to “deliver justice in real time.” These can be expressed in three sentiments: the search for continuous learning among judges who play the dual role of arbitrators and administrative managers; promote a culture of immersion and peer mentorship; and calling for increased financial support to implement these measures.

“The outcome is our common hope: to regain public confidence in the justice system,” Singh shared of the courts’ collective aspiration.

A Judge’s Arsenal

It’s no surprise that Singh, as a jurist and educator, is a strong advocate for lifelong learning. It links the act of sharpening and wielding a sword to a judge’s ongoing quest for knowledge and training.

Indeed, one cannot suspend self-improvement, especially, in this case, for judges whose decisions and actions carry life-changing weight as the immediate representatives of justice in the land.

“Above the role-based aspects of a judge is the powerful constitutional epigram that public office is public office,” she said.

The arsenal of a lawyer is therefore not complete without extensive knowledge and expertise. Another trait that goes hand in hand with this, as Singh pointed out in his lecture, is compassion.

“At the forefront of the justice sector’s pursuit of prompt and fair administration of justice is epitomized in the Philippine term of compassion, malasakit. This will play a determining role in the changes that will be proposed in the field of judicial training, the logic being that malasakit this is what current and future judges will strive for to reach the optimum potential of a magistrate,” she said.

Basically, being a magistrate is a human-centred practice. Singh and his peers swear allegiance to the truth and wade through volumes of caseloads, all with the goal of bringing justice to concerned citizens – from the pews to the masses.

Singh’s lecture provides insight into the values ​​she lives by, which include compassion as well as the constant search for truth and knowledge. As the first female law professor, Singh also offered this message, inspired by the slogan of last year’s women’s campaign: “I have chosen to challenge my fellow citizens not to let society to define. We must put an end to this struggle to always live up to “their standards” and “their qualifications”. Let’s live our lives thinking only of possibilities, never of limits. Instead, I choose to think of myself as a woman, and therefore, I am limitless.

Questions and answers

Building on the key points presented in his lecture, Singh further shared his insights on a judge’s sworn duty to himself, his peers and the public, in this interview:

Q: You mentioned your passion for teaching during your conference. How is being an educator a factor in your advocacy and legal work?

First, it is the ethical responsibility of every judge to stay informed and abreast of legal developments. From my study of adult education and my own experiences as a law professor, I know that teaching is the best way to learn because it gives the learner not only the necessary knowledge and information, but also ensures comprehension and retention.

Second, being a teacher gives me excellent support for my advocacy. Through my legal publications, courses and lectures to law students, lawyers, judges, judges and court staff, I am able to highlight my advocacy and demonstrate its relevance to the varied roles of my listeners.

Q: What does a strong judiciary look like to you? Although there is no blueprint, what do you see as the main tools for shaping a stronger justice system?

I do not dream of a “strong” judiciary, because it is in no way the judiciary envisioned in our Constitution. On the contrary, I dream of a judicial department that is a true equal to the executive and legislative departments of our national government.

Since I joined the bench in 2002, 19 years ago, I have had so many dreams. But all the while, all of my work as a jurist and reformer has always been directed towards solidifying the four cornerstones that I believe will underpin a truly egalitarian judiciary: (1) independence, which must necessarily include the fiscal autonomy and equitable budget allocation; (2) transparency and accountability; (3) efficiency and effectiveness; and (4) integrity.

Q: What drives you to contribute to this quest?

My answer is constant: I love this institution, I love my job.

We’re told that if you love your job, you’ll never have to work a day in your life – that’s not true. You will work and toil like everyone else, but you will do so with inspiration and dedication, and you will not be driven by any selfish motive, other than your desire to serve and to serve faithfully. And your reward – the satisfaction that no money can buy: the knowledge that you have done what your oath requires of you, without money or malice, in pursuit of truth, as a faithful servant of justice. For me, there is no nobler quest.

It is a journey that I share with my brothers and sisters on the bench, but each step forward takes not only us, but all future generations with us, towards the aspiration of a future where the courts will truly have the trust of the people we serve as the true bastion of law and justice.

Q: We are struck by your mention of “malasakit” in the newspaper. How is the concept of malasakit related to the justice system? Why is it important to practice it especially now that the country is in the midst of a pandemic?

For me, if a judge has malasakit for the establishment, it will serve to the best of its ability, not counting the cost. It’s the same malasakit for the people, whose life, liberties and goods we transmit and govern on a daily basis, are the surest guarantee of a competent and diligent service.

I don’t believe there should be any particular reason to act differently in times of crisis, like the current pandemic, than we would in ordinary times. This attitude is something that all judges should strive to practice in all cases and at all times.

Q: For you, how is compassion manifested in the work of a judge or the judiciary?

Just look at the number of judges who have lost their lives in the service, whether by disease or accident, or by violent means. Look at the courts that have remained open even at the height of a deadly pandemic just to ensure our people can still access the relief system. Look at our judges who have to travel by plane or boat, drive for hours, make public trips, just to get to their stations and hear the cases of our litigants. Watch the trials and hearings that take place in ramshackle, dilapidated structures, makeshift tents, and even gymnasiums just to serve the public.

We do it 24/7/365. It’s for me malasakit. For me, this is service in its purest form.

Q: Finally, at the heart of the work of justice is the Filipino people. What do you think can be done to educate the public about the law and the role of the judiciary? How can this information be made more accessible to them?

At the very least, more effort needs to be made to make legal proceedings easier to understand and follow for our average Juan and Juana dela Cruz.

Access to justice should not only mean the physical accessibility of the courts. Genuine access to justice means that each litigant is aware of the various remedies available to them and of the appropriate legal remedies to use to benefit from them. Without such awareness, there can be no meaningful access to justice.

In addition to changes to procedural rules to streamline processes, for better public understanding, simplified information materials should be made available free of charge to court users, such as posters describing flowcharts of the steps in case, from filing to case completion, FAQs, sample forms and more. materials. –

This piece was first published on

A joint venture between the Metrobank Foundation, Inc. and the Philippine Judicial Academy, the Professorial Chair aims to promote capacity building and excellence in judicial and legal education through the presentation of timely and comprehensive speeches by senior jurists.

Associate Justice Singh joins prominent professors such as Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta (2019), Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals Japar Dimaampao (2018), retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Romeo Callejo (2017), retired Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals Magdangal de Leon (2016), retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Jose Vitug (2014), Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Marvic Leonen ( 2009) and retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Adolfo Azcuna (2007).

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