“Public office is a public trust”. Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives”. (Sec. 1, Art. XI, 1987 Constitution)."
Judges are crusaders in the ocean of public service, donned in the robe of truth, justice, and honesty. Among the challenges faced by our nation today is the restoration of faith and trust in the government. The judicial branch is not an exception. As such, we have endeavoured to promote the image of our justice system as an efficient, honest and reliable pillar of the Republic.
Being a judge requires not just the knowledge of law and procedure. Judges are mandated to be efficient and competent to make the laws real instruments of justice. Judgeship also carries with it a change in lifestyle, especially in the area of socialization, where the camaraderie with fellow lawyers and other professionals is lessened, if not altogether avoided. For ethical considerations, a judge has to limit his social arena to family, relatives and a few friends. They are discouraged from joining associations which may jeopardize the judicial requirement for neutrality and impartiality.
To these challenges, the Metropolitan and City Judges Association of the Philippines (MetCJAP) have aptly responded to the multifarious needs of judges to achieve not only a balanced individual personality, but also a well-balanced judicial personality.
MetCJAP is composed of metropolitan and city judges throughout the country, Prior to 1996, they had separate associations with small membership. In 1996, the late Chief Justice Andres R. Narvasa suggested the integration of both organizations, which matter was later brought to the attention of then Court Administrator Justice Alfredo R. Benipayo. Consequently, in 1997, members of the two (2) associations gathered in Mandaluyong City where the city judges were guests of the metropolitan judges in a convention held thereat; thus, the birth of MetCJAP. In 1999, the first MetCJAP National Convention was held in Cebu City where members approved the first Constitution and By-laws, later registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on June 27, 2003. Judge K. Casiano P. Asuncion, a metropolitan judge of Manila, became the first President.
Consistent with its goals to promote the justice system through competence, honesty and efficiency; to equip members with the best practices and latest approaches in the judicial profession and as active partners for needed judicial reforms, the MetCJAP, through its almost two (2) decades of existence, has embarked on fruitful endeavours.
Among the first ventures of the Association was the active participation to various congressional hearings for the approval of the law granting a Special Allowance to Judges and Justices (SAJJ). In its bid to maintain and enhance judicial integrity, the Association passed a Manifesto of Support for the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court in September 2003. A similar Manifesto of Support for then Chief Justice Reynato Puno was signed when the integrity of the entire judiciary was under attack in 2009. In 2012, the Association issued a similar Manifesto declaring unequivocally the judiciary’s independence and supremacy of the Rule of Law, vis-à-vis the impeachment proceedings filed against then Chief Justice Renato C. Corona. MetCJAP, in cooperation with the Philippine Trial Judges League Inc. (PTJLI), was also instrumental to the granting of Protocol Plates for judges under Memorandum Order No. 297.
In keeping with its socio-civic mission and as an integral part of the annual convention beginning early 2000, MeTCJAP conducts various outreach programs with focus on marginalized sectors such as street children, the elderly, women and drug dependents. In the aftermath of Typhoon Ondoy in 2009, under the leadership of Judge Jaime B. Santiago as president, the Association undertook the distribution of relief goods and financial assistance to affected judges and employees of the first level courts.
In response to the demands of judicial wellness, during the term of Judge Santiago, a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), was entered into for the first time, with the Philippine Chinese Charitable Association, Inc. (PCCAI) wherein members can avail of a 50% discount on certain medical and hospital expenses at the Chinese General Hospital and Medical Center (CGHMC) effective March 2, 2010. Henceforth, this benefit became a continuing project and similar agreements were renewed in September 2012, September 2014, and June 2017. Dr. James Dy, as President of PCCAI, signed the latest MOA which will end in 2019.
Judicial Wellness was also adopted as theme for two successive conventions (2011 and 2012), respectively held at Subic Bay Freeport Zone and Dakak, Dapitan City where lectures and activities on physical and psycho-emotional wellness were conducted.
To further show commitment to enhancing and promoting judicial wellness, the MetCJAP Board of 2013-2015, in coordination with the PTJLI, assiduously worked for the passage of Republic Act No. 10709, otherwise known as “An Act Providing for Thirty Days Forfeitable Leave Privileges to First Level Court Judges”, which leaves are non-cumulative and non-convertible to cash. Said law finally took effect in February 2016. A pending advocacy of the Association is the inclusion of the first level court judges in the proposed grant of Hazard Pay to the judges of the Regional Trial Courts.
In the 17th Annual Convention, the Constitution and By-Laws of 2003 were amended and subsequently registered with the SEC.
MetCJAP has always supported the advocacy for a uniform salary grade between the three (3) first level court judges’ categories: (1) Municipal Circuit Trial Court Judges (SG26); (2) Municipal Trial Court Judges in Cities and municipalities (SG 27 and SG 26), and: (3) Metropolitan Trial Court Judges (SG 28). In fact, this matter was taken up during the Annual Convention held at General Santos City and Cagayan de Oro City. During the term of Chief Justice Teresita Leonardo De-Castro, the Supreme Court En Banc set a single Salary Grade for all first level court judges, irrespective of category, or SG 28.
Still another significant step in the history of the Association is the creation of social media accounts and chat groups (yahoo/messenger/facebook), started sometime in 2011 by the Manila judges. Usage of these platforms has made MetCJAP members accessible to each other for so many reasons- updates on SC and OCA Circulars, laws, jurisprudence, including allowances and miscellaneous remunerations. It has drummed up attendance to conventions and other judges’ fora and has made members more abreast with judicial and current events complimenting judicial functions.
For the 20th Annual Convention held in Blue Leaf Filipinas, Parañaque City last September 2018, the Association extended its reach beyond the Philippine borders with the participation of international lecturers on the best judicial practices around the globe.
In retrospect, the MetCJAP has already taken leaps from its humble beginnings. It has taken significant strides in the various areas of judicial development. It has answered the socio-cultural needs of judges. It has equally fulfilled their psycho-emotional, educational and capacity-building, as well as the multifarious demands to achieve a well-balanced judicial personality.
It shall continue to instill in its members to uphold truth, justice and the rule of law in the performance of their duties. It shall endeavor to promote the image of the judicial profession through competent, efficient, honest and dedicated service to the public in general, and to the lawyers and litigants in particular. It shall continue to work closely with the Supreme Court in equipping judges with the best practices and latest developments in the judicial profession. It shall also continue to be a reliable and committed partner to the programs for Judicial Reform on speedy resolution of cases and technological enhancement of court processes, enhancing the quality of access to justice and for a faster and more efficient dispensation of justice. The MetCJAP shall likewise exert its best efforts to work and coordinate with the Supreme Court in the innovations of rules and practices to effectively respond to the changes in the judicial practice. As it enters the third decade of its existence, the MetCJAP vows not to cease in encouraging its members to make a difference in the judiciary, and to make this country a better place to live in.