Maria Lourdes Sereno the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court unconstitutionally ousted by her peers under the pressures of Duterte and his allies. Though she fought a good fight, but she ended up vacating her post. However, her high-tech reforms in the judiciary will surely continue to benefit many Filipinos up until this day. In fact, in the most recent data provided by the Supreme Court to the House committee on appropriations when it defended its P38.71-billion budget for 2020 on Wednesday, August 28 showed that compliance with the rules of continuous trial jumped from measly 2.13% to 30% — this is an amazing improvement.

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In a graph provided by the Supreme Court and prepared by Rappler. Showed the efficiency of each court based on the 180 day trial rule before and after Sereno’s reforms.

Sereno’s Continuous Trial Guidelines program prohibits postponement unless based on exceptional grounds, sets trial dates one day apart, and requires promulgation of the decision within 90 days. However, this may sound easy, but it is very hard to implement and impose. So what other things that Sereno did which improved the speed of our judicial systems? The key is using ”technology”.

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Former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has always envisioned something different the moment she was appointed Chief Justice in 2012: a modern judiciary where technology ensures justice in real-time. With an automated program that keeps track of everything and ensures that all court processes were streamlined with other government agencies for faster processing.

“I suggested that we use the e-mail system so that we can have the subpoenas of the police officers sent directly by e-mail. You just e-mail it, and the moment that is received in their server, it binds them. We now have a 97% attendance of police witnesses in criminal cases” –  Chief Justice Sereno

During her term. Sereno puts emphasis on improving the judicial systems. She said she found out that the Court lacked a process review.

“Insiders of the Supreme Court said that I am the first chief justice who has ever called a management meeting for all the heads of offices. I also called the 3 presiding justices of the 3 collegiate courts – Sandiganbayan, Court of Appeals, Court of Tax Appeals. They said, ‘This is the first time the chief justice ever told us that we need a coordinated plan to deliver justice.’”

–  Chief Justice Sereno

Introducing terms like KPI or key performance indicator to the judiciary, Sereno set a target of 300 cases for every trial court. Some judges are overwhelmed with as many as 2,000 or even 4,000 cases.

Under Sereno’s watch, the Supreme Court implemented reform programs like the electronic court system. The project uses so-called automated hearings, and expedites the issuance of judges’ orders.

“Orders are issued as soon as they come out of the mouth of the judge. You have it on paper. So there are already stories of lawyers in Quezon City who have written our judges thanking them that it has been transformational, lawyers who have taken selfies with their automated orders obtained immediately,” Sereno said.

Sereno’s high-tech initiatives continue to bolster the speed of our judicial processes through high-tech transmission of court data and as well as utilizing the power of automation, which streamlines  court hearings and allows the near instantaneous printing of the judge’s orders right off the bench.

Most judges, litigants, and trial lawyers in the Philippines have long been accustomed to the lengthy delays associated with serving official court orders by mail – orders which the judge already dictates directly to parties during the hearing. This delay between the hearing and service of orders – and consequently,
the ingrained expectation and acceptance of it – is often exacerbated by several rounds of time consuming, post-hearing edits, or by judges simply deferring the issuance of orders deemed nonpriorities. In most instances, these types of delays could be completely avoided by giving judges the right tools paired with corresponding procedural changes such as Sereno’s automated hearing system. As one Quezon City judge not

Last Friday, February 21, 2014, at 8:30 a.m., in Branch 85 of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, I presided over the first fully automated in-court trial proceedings in our country. My stenographer was directly typing all dictated orders into her computer and I had a monitor and keyboard connected to her computer which allowed me to check the order drafted per case realtime and once final, we printed each order and released them to all parties present at an average of no more than five minutes wait-time (mostly for printing and my signature on each page). It did not end there. Simultaneously, my interpreter was typing up the minutes per case, including the list of all marked exhibits for cases where witnesses adduced evidence, and we also printed the minutes for signature of all the parties present even ahead of my order per case. Lastly, my docket clerk (Civil Cases last Friday as we heard Special Proceedings and Land Registration Cases) was also ready to issue subpoena prayed for in the course of the hearings, while substituting with the interpreter when paper markings for exhibits were necessitated. At the end of the session, everybody in the courtroom was all smiles. The litigants thanked us for making them part of history and I thanked my staff for taking the first brave step into the annals of history. — Written by Justice Singh for the Philippine Women Judges Association convention

Sereno’s reforms left a long-lasting improvement in our judiciary, which was the first in many years of our long been notoriously corrupt and painstakingly slow judicial systems which many would point out that whenever justice is delayed is justice denied.

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