Cecilia Muñoz-Palma: the first female judge associated with the Supreme Court
Judge Cecilia Muñoz-Palma was born on November 22, 1913 in Bauan, Batangas. His father was a former Congressman from Batangas. She was intellectually gifted and dominated all of her classes at all levels. She was promoted to the high school class of the Collège Sainte-Scholastique in 1931. She was the first woman to be elected president of the UP Student Council of the College of Law in 1936. She won medals of or in debate and oratory. She received the coveted Dr. Mendoza-Guanzon Medal for Excellence in Oratory, as well as Judge Abad Santos’ Medal as Outstanding Debater.
She received her law degree from the University of the Philippines and ranked No.1 in the 1937 bar exams, only the second woman to top the bar after former Senator Tecla San Andres Ziga, also of the UP, in 1931. She completed her Masters in Law. graduated from Yale Law School. As a lawyer, she set many “firsts” in our legal history: Quezon City’s first female prosecutor in 1947 and the RTC’s first female judge. She was the second woman appointed to the Court of Appeal. In 1973, she was the first woman appointed associate judge of the Supreme Court (SC).
She was appointed to the CS on October 29, 1973 by President Ferdinand Marcos. She was one of the independent members of the highest court. She has issued dissenting opinions critical of the regime and has strongly opposed the government’s abuses of martial law. In Aquino v. Comelec, GR L-40004, January 31, 1975, criticizing the referendum organized to ratify the Constitution of 1973, Judge Muñoz-Palma considered that “a referendum under martial rule can be of little significance because it is carried out in an atmosphere or a climate of fear because it involves a wide area of restriction and violation of individual rights…. This is a matter of grave concern which requires full, mature and sober deliberation by the people, but which it can only do in a climate of freedom without the constraints of martial law. She proposed lifting martial law instead of allowing President Marcos to propose constitutional amendments. She reiterated it in Peralta v. Comelec, et al., GR L-47771, March 11, 1978, where she declared: “The only possible measure which can lead our country to normality is the lifting and the end of the state of martial war …” In another dissent, she renounced martial law in the strongest terms, claiming that “martial law involves the power of the pistol, means coercion by the military, as well as coercion and intimidation”. Along with Judge Claudio Teehankee, and sometimes joined by Judge Jose Abad Santos, Judge Palma challenged rulings that upheld President Marcos’ decrees and ordinances during the perilous years of martial law. His many dissent contrasted sharply with the self-indulgent opinions of his submissive male colleagues.
After her stint in the SC, she continued her opposition to Marcos and refused to be intimidated by the authoritarian regime. Her soft but courageous voice had rallied and inspired the political forces of the opposition, which were galvanized by the assassination of Ninoy Aquino in 1983. Along with other anti-Marcos figures such as Senators Doy Laurel and Gerry Roxas, she has sought to unify all elements of the opposition. This ultimately led to the formation of the United Nationalist Democratic Organization, initially co-chaired by Senator Gerry Roxas and President Jose Laurel, Jr. In the 1984 elections for members of Batasang Pambansa, Judge Muñoz-Palma stood presented as a member of the Assembly under UNIDO. banner. She led the opposition list in Quezon City and succeeded in electing three opposition members: Orlando Mercado, Alberto Romulo and herself. On August 13, 1985, 56 members of the opposition, including Judge Muñoz-Palma, signed a resolution to dismiss the president for corruption, serious crimes and abuse of power, but it was rejected by a majority of the 183 members of the ‘National Assembly. Although outnumbered, Judge Muñoz-Palma did not deter her efforts to protect the interests of her people against the tyranny of the authoritarian regime. She served in the unicameral legislature from June 30, 1984 until March 25, 1986, when it was dissolved by Proclamation No. 3 issued by President Cory Aquino, also known as the Freedom Constitution of 1986. She was one of the influential leaders who helped convince housewife Cory Aquino to challenge Marcos and run for president in the snap elections of 1986. When the Constitutional Commission was created by President Cory Aquino after the Edsa revolution, Judge Muñoz-Palma was appointed as one of its members. She was later elected by her peers as president and led the drafting of the Philippine Constitution of 1987, which the drafters completed in record time. The current Philippine Constitution of 1987, which remains in effect to this day, is a testament to his leadership and dedication. During her presidency, President Cory appointed Judge Muñoz-Palma to the Council of State, the president’s highest advisory body. At the age of 85, Judge Muñoz-Palma was appointed President and CEO of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office by President Joseph Estrada. It was her last official government post, which she held with the greatest dedication.
She died on January 2, 2006 at the age of 92. In 2009, following her death, the International Women’s Forum inducted Judge Muñoz-Palma into its International Hall of Fame, a distinct honor bestowed only on a woman of great worth and distinction. She lived a long life, but every minute was devoted to serving her country and her people. In retrospect, let us take comfort in his dissent in Sanidad and Sanidad v. Comelec, et al. where she recognized the risk of crossing swords with the majority of the Court and the powers that be when she wrote: only with the thought that in this grave task of administering justice, when questions of conscience are at stake , one must be prepared to espouse and embrace a legitimate cause as unpopular as it may be. During all her years at SC, she never hesitated or balked at taking this lonely and precarious road.