Unknown to many, after the passage of the Judicial Act of 1948, the first association of the judges of the second-level court (then Court of First Instance) was formed. It was called the “Fraternity of Court of First Instance”. The organization was later renamed as the Association of Court of First Instance Judges.
Subsequently, various trial courts with the equal rank as the Court of First Instance were organized and included in the association. These are the Court of Agrarian Relations, the Circuit Trial Criminal Court, and Court of Tax Appeals. To accommodate the expanded membership, the organization adopted a new name, curiously a mouthful at that: Association of CFI, CCC, CAR and CTA Judges (ACCCC).
Respected judges were elected to head the Association, some of whom were eventually promoted to the higher courts. The last election of the Association was held sometime in 1970 or 1971. Judge Juan Echiverri was the incumbent President of the Association when martial law was declared on September 21, 1972. Unfortunately, with the declaration of martial law, the Association ceased to function. Moreover, with the acceptance by then President Ferdinand E. Marcos of the courtesy resignations of a number of judges, the membership of the Association dwindled.
"On January 17, 1983, (Batas Pambansa Blg.) 129 ordained the restructuring of all courts except the Supreme Court, the Sandiganbayan, and the Court of Tax Appeals. B.P. 129 also renamed the Court of First Instance (CFI) into the present Regional Trial Court (RTC)." Since the ACCCC was no longer functioning, "many judges felt the need to have an organization similar to the defunct ACCCC and this clamor came about in social and official gatherings of the judges." As such, sometime in June 1983, Judge Santiago Ranada, Jr. set-up preliminary meetings of judges at the Valle Verde Country Club in Pasig to address the hiatus in the Association’s activities." A coordinating group was then initially formed. In a subsequent meeting that same year, the group decided to come up with an election of interim officers of the Association. It also resolved to again change the name of the Association to its present appellation- the Philippine Judges Association (PJA). The interim officers elected were Judges Alfredo Lazaro, President; Ernani Cruz Pano, Executive Vice President; Oscar Herrera and Rosario Veloso, Vice-Presidents; Regina O. Benitez, Treasurer; Bienvenido C. Vera Cruz, Auditor; Jesus Elbinias, PRO; and Job Madayag, Asst. PRO. The elected directors were Pedro T. Santiago, Maximo Maceren, Alfredo Cruz, Remigio Zari, Pedro Ramirez, Rizalina Vera, Cesar Francisco, Domingo Angeles, Domingo Panis, Filemon Cabigao, Eutropio Migrino, Efren Acosta and Filemon Mendoza. The Regional Directors were Judge Salvador Aldez, Region I; Napoleon Flojo, Region II; Sabino R. De Leon, Region III; Maximiano Asuncion, Region IV; Ramon Makasiar, Region V; Catalino C. Dacuycuy, (Region) VIII; Zain Angas (Region) IX: Benjamin Famador, (Region) X; Alejandro Siason, (Region) XI and Grambra R. Zul, (Region) XII.
The Regional Trial Court judges all over the country then ratified and declared elected this interim set of officers in a write-in ballot in 1983.
"Judge Ernani Cruz Pano succeeded Judge Lazaro as President after the latter assumed office as Justice of the Court of Appeals in 1984." The PJA then "conducted a national election through write-in ballot" in March 1985. After the canvass, the following were elected: Judges Alfredo V. Cruz Jr., President; Josue N. Bellosillo, Executive Vice-President; Florentino A. Flor; Vice President for Luzon; Leonardo Canares, Vice-President for Mindanao; Santiago Ranada Jr., Secretary General; Regina Ordonez-Benitez, Treasurer, Filemon H. Mendoza, Auditor; and Benigno M. Puno, PRO."
In 1986, President Alfredo Cruz and Executive Vice-President Josue N. Bellosillo were appointed Justices of the Court of Appeals. The Board thus elected Vice-President for Luzon Florentino as Acting President until a new election could be held.
Then came the EDSA Revolution in 1986 wherein by reason of Proclamation No. 1 issued by then President Cory Aquino “all the members of the Judiciary from the Supreme Court down to the Municipal Circuit Courts placed their offices at the disposal of the President”. In 1987, a group of RTC Judges met and after coordinating with then Acting President Florentino Flor; they agreed to hold a national convention and election.
During the PJA national convention held at the Hyatt Hotel, Manila, in July 1987, a new set of officers was elected: Judges Manuel M. Calanog, Jr., President; Santiago J. Ranada, Jr., Executive Vice-President; Eloy R. Bello, Vice-President for External Affairs; Alfonso V. Combong, Jr., Vice-President for Administration; Asaali S. Isnani, Vice-President for Research and Judicial Education; Bernardo P. Abesamis, Secretary General; Regina Ordonez Benitez, Treasurer; Job B. Madayag, Auditor; Ma. Alicia M. Austria, PRO. A complete line-up of Regional Directors was also elected for the first time during the said convention.
"In July 1989, during the PJA national convention held at the Celebrity Sports Plaza in Quezon City, the following judges were elected: Judges Manuel M. Calanog, Jr., President; Santiago J. Ranada, Jr., Executive-Vice President; Alfonso V. Combong, Jr., Vice-President for Administration; Alfredo J. Lagamon, Vice-President for External Affairs; Ma. Alicia M. Austria, Vice-President for Research and Judicial Education for External Affairs; Bernardo P. Abesamis, Secretary General; Angelina S. Gutierrez, Treasurer; Zenaida N. Elepano, Auditor; and Ruben Reyes as PRO".
During the national convention held in May 1991 at the Quezon City Sports Club, the following judges were elected: Judges Bernardo P. Abesamis, President; Maximo A. Savellano, Jr., Executive Vice-President; Alfonso V. Combong, Jr., Senior Vice President; Alfredo J. Lagamon, Vice-President for Administration; Job B. Madayag, Vice-President for External Affairs; Julieto P. Tabiolo, Vice-President for Research and Judicial Education; Mariano M. Umali, Vice-President for Legal Affairs; Roy Masadao, Jr., Vice-President for Special Projects; Francisco D. Villanueva, Vice-President for Finance; Felix M. De Guzman, Secretary General; Conrado M. Vasquez, Jr., Treasurer, Zenaida N. Elepano, Auditor; Maximiano C. Asuncion, PRO; Ignacio M. Capulong, Business Manager.
In 1992, upon the suggestion of then President Judge Bernardo P. Abesamis, the Board Created the positions of Deputy Officers. The first set of deputy officers appointed in 1993 were Judges Tirso D.C. Velasco as Deputy SVP; Elpidio M. Catungal, Sepity VP Internal Affairs; Eudarlio B. Valencia, Deputy VP Research and Judicial Education; Alfredo C. Flores, Deputy VP-Legal Affairs; Ramon P. Makasiar, Deputy Secretary General; Basilio R. Ramiscal, Deputy Treasurer; Efren N. Ambrosio, Presidential Assistant for Luzon; Priscilla Agana, Presidential Assistant for Visayas; Salvador A. Memoracion, Presidential Assistant for Mindanao; Carlo H. Lozada, Presidential Assistant for Operation; and Santiago J. Ranada, Presidential Assistant for Housing."
On June 24, 1993, during the PJA National Convention held at the Quezon City Sports Club, Judge Bernardo P. Abesamis was overwhelmingly re-elected as President of the Association. On June 3,1994 or six (6) months after his re-election, Judge Abesamis was appointed Deputy Court Administrator of the Supreme Court. On April 8, 1998, DCA Abesamis was appointed Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals. In view of the vacancy in the presidency, EVP Alfonso V. Combong, Jr., of La Carlota City, Negros Occidental became the first judge stationed outside of Metro Manila to assume the Presidency. He served from 1993 to May 1995, together with the other officers: Judges Benito C. Se, Executive Vice President; Mariano Umali, SVP; Nemesio S. Felix, VP-External Affairs; Julieto P. Tabiolo, VP-Internal Affairs; Francisco Donato Villanueva, VP Research and Judicial Education; Roy D. Masadao, VP-Legal Affairs; Danilo B. Pine, VP-Special Projects; Artemio R. Alivia, VP-Finance; Felix M. De Guzman, Secretary General; Ma. Cristina C. Estrada, Treasurer; Wilfredo D. Reyes, Auditor; Maximiano C. Asuncion, PRO ; Jesus B. Bersamira, Business Manager.
Next in line was Judge Mariano M. Umali of RTC, Pasig who was elected President and served the Association from May 25, 1995 until his appointment as Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals on April 8, 1998. Judge Romulo Lopez of Manila RTC, thereafter succeeded him as President. Judge Danilo Pine also of Pasig RTC assumed the presidency in 1999 and got re-elected in 2001. He was eventually promoted as Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals in 2002. With Justice Pine’s assumption as Court of Appeals Justice, Judge Marino M. dela Cruz, Jr. of RTC Manila took over as President. On October 23, 2003, Judge Romeo F. Barza of Makati RTC was elected President. He, too, was promoted in 2006 to the Court of Appeals. Consequently, Judge Jane Aurora C. Lantion of RTC-Lipa, who was then Executive Vice-President succeeded the presidency, thereby making her the First Woman President of the PJA. When Judge Lantion was, likewise, promoted to the Court of Appeals, then Executive Vice-President Judge Guillermo P. Agloro of RTC-Malolos, Bulacan succeeded as President until October 2007. During the succeeding regular election, Judge Antonio M. Eugenio, Jr. of Manila RTC was elected as the new President for the term 2007-2009. In October 2009, Judge Antonio Eugenio was re-elected unopposed, together with his entire ticket, for the term 2009-2011. He was eventually appointed in 2012 as Deputy Court Administrator of the Supreme Court.
In October 2011, Judge Franklin J. Demonteverde of RTC, Bacolod City was elected President, thereby making him the second judge from Negros Occidental to head the judges association. The other officers who served for the term 2011-2013 were: Ralph Lee (EVP); Maribel Liban (SVP); Jose Paneda (VP-Internal); Erwin Ferrer (VP-External); Sylva Paderanga (VP-Legal); Gina Hidalgo, (VP- Special Projects); Eugene Paras, (VP-Administration); Racquelen Vasquez (VP-Finance); Danilo Cruz (VP-Judicial Research and Education); Lyliha Aquino, (Secretary General); Cristina Sulit (Treasurer); Peter Eisma (Auditor); Josefina Farrales (Business Manager); and Rosalyn Mislos-Loja (PRO).
Perhaps, the most controversial election in PJA history was in October 2013, when Judge Ralph S. Lee of RTC, Quezon City was elected President of the association. For the first time, a candidate for Executive Vice President lodged an election protest before the Regional Trial Court of Manila alleging, among others, the supposed irregularities in the conduct of the election. While the election protest was eventually dismissed by the Manila RTC, it however prompted the Supreme Court to form an ad hoc committee to conduct its own investigation on the matter.
The election controversy, according to the Supreme Court, tarnished the image of the Philippine Judges Association. It, however, paved the way to the realization that there is an imperative need to institute reforms that would ensure a clean, honest, and credible elections. In view of this pressing concern, Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez called for immediate and substantial election reforms within the PJA. He discouraged the holding of elections during the convention period and suggested the use of an automated voting system to avoid or, at least, minimize expenses. Under the automated election, the member-judges will cast their votes on-line at the designated polling precincts in their respective regions. Since the Court Administrator exercises control and supervision over the judges, he stressed the need and importance to implement significant reforms in the succeeding election process of officers.
The proposed automated system was perceived to be a gargantuan task, not to mention an ambitious project, taking into consideration the limited period to design the software program, as well as the lack of resources and technical expertise of the association.
Initially, the officers were entertaining some reservations on whether to proceed with the automated system of elections knowing that it needs a longer time to prepare and educate all the members, especially those who are technically challenged. As the Determined and committed to effect changes to redeem the image of the PJA that was damaged by the 2013 election controversy, the National Officers and Directors, in the PJA meeting of September 2015, issued a Board Resolution adopting the automated system of election and setting the election date to December 3, 2015. With the full support and assistance of the Office of the Court Administrator and Supreme Court's MISO, who designed the program, coupled with the unflinching determination of all concerned to institute genuine reforms, the PJA held its first nationwide automated election on December 3, 2015.
On election day, the casting of votes was scheduled at 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. After the closing of precincts, Judge Georgina D. Hidalgo of RTC, Caloocan City, was proclaimed PJA President thus making her way to the pages of PJA history as the first lady President-elect of the association. The other national officers who were elected for the term 2015-2017 are: Felix Reyes, Executive Vice President: Jaime Santiago, Senior Vice President; Danilo Cruz, VP for Administration; Sylva Paderanga, VP External Affairs; Efren Santos, VP Internal Affairs; Celso Magsino VP Judicial Research; Rowena Nieves Tan, VP Special Projects; Loida Maputol, VP Finance; Evelyn Nery, VP Legal Affairs; Racquelen Vasquez, Secretary General; Leili Suarez, Treasurer; Lily Lydia Laquindanum Auditor; Caridad Galvez, Business Manager; Francisco Felizmenio, PRO.
With the successful and orderly implementation of the first automated election, the PJA was able to achieve its goal to have a clean, honest, credible, efficient and inexpensive election of its officers.
Undeniably, the success of the first nationwide automated election of 2015 is a significant milestone in PJA history, and is consistent with the goal of the association to keep its members abreast with the fast changing times and the use of modern technology in its pursuit of excellence in the third millennium.
It was during the term of Judge Romulo Lopez as President of the PJA when the Association was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws of the PJA were approved by the SEC per the Certificate of Incorporation dated 26 May 1999. As listed in the said Articles, the purposes of the PJA are as follows:
1. To unite all Judges of the Regional Trial Courts, Sharia District Courts, and all such other courts of equal or similar jurisdictions as may be created by law (or) their successors-in-interest, under one common national organization with regional and provincial network(s);
2. To preserve and maintain the integrity and independence of the Judiciary, ensure an efficient and speedy dispensation of justice under the rule of law, and to aid the members in the discharge of their judicial duties and functions in accordance with their oath of office and as demanded by public interest and general welfare;
3. To foster a more fraternal relationship among the members, promote cooperation and mutual understanding among them;
4. To serve as a forum for exchange of ideas among the members;
5. To improve the administration of justice, to assist in the maintenance of a high standard of integrity, industry and competence in the judiciary, in accordance with the Canons of Professional Ethics, the Constitution, and existing laws; and, incidental thereto:
1. To study ways of bringing about efficient management of the courts:
2. To foster and maintain at all times the high ideals of integrity, industry and competence in order to promote justice;
3. To cultivate among its members the spirit of brotherhood;
4. To recommend a continuing judicial education;
5. To initiate and undertake judicial reforms and
6. To undertake activities that would help the members maintain the high stature of the members in society.
Section 1, Article III of the PJA By-Laws enumerates the Officers of the Association:
Moreover, Section 2, Article III of the PJA By-Laws provides that "all officers of the association shall hold office for two years and until their successors are duly elected and qualified. xxx xxx xxx An Officer who had transferred to other agencies, or had been promoted, resigned, retired or terminated from service shall automatically be considered resigned as officer of the association and shall be replaced automatically by the officer next in the line of succession or in the absence thereof, either by election or appointment, as provided herein."
On account thereof, the PJA members directly elect fifteen (15) national officers every two (2) years. In addition, five (5) sub-regional directors in Metro Manila and twelve (12) regional directors (trustees) are elected on a sub-regional or regional basis that include the following: (1) Manila; (2) Quezon City; (iii) Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas and Valenzuela; (4) Makati, Pasay and Pasig; (5) Las Pinas, Mandaluyong, Marikina, Muntinlupa ans Paranaque; and (6) Directors for Regions 1 to 12.
During the PJA's 33 years of existence, it has its own share of "ups and downs". At its inception, there were some 'birth pains' but through the resilience and dedication of its pioneering officers and members, the PJA has become the dynamic, relevant and responsive organization that it is today.
The PJA is the only association of RTC Judges that is duly recognized by the Supreme Court. As such, it has been given representations in a number of Supreme Court committees pertaining to matters that affect the interest and welfare of the PJA members. It is also being consulted, as well, on pressing issues and relevant concerns of the Judiciary, particularly on the just, speedy, and efficient dispensation of justice. The PJA President is, likewise, an ex-officio member of the Board of Trustees of the Philippine Judicial Academy.
Unknown to many, the PJA, to date, is the only judges organization that extends financial assistance and benefits to its members. Medical reimbursement, in the maximum amount of P30,000.00 is given to members who was actually confined in hospitals for treatment. The legal defense fund assistance may be availed of by members who has been administratively charged; while the Abuloyan qbenefit extended to members' death. The funds are being sourced from the contributions of its members, as well as the fund-raising activities during its annual convention. It is also through the Supreme Court that the monthly contributions are being deducted from the members' monthly salaries. These contributions are the principal sources of funds for the benefits being extended to the members.
More importantly, the PJA has regularly and successfully planned and conducted the annual conventions of the members and other related activities to promote camaraderie, unity, and cooperation among its members. It has, likewise, responded to social concerns of great interest to the members, like the increase in compensation that resulted in the passage of RA No. 9227, or the “SAJJ” Law, and other forms of assistance that are needed by them under certain circumstances.
It may be well to state that it was during President Tony Eugenio’s term that the PJA was able to work and accomplish much of its most significant goals, particularly the following:
1. Restoration of the 100% amount of the SAJJ, thus, liberating judges from the effects of the implementation of Sec. 6 RA No. 9227, on account of the Memorandum of agreement entered into by and between the DBM and the PJA et. al. which was adopted by the Supreme Court in its En Banc Resolution dated 7 June 2011 in A.M. No. 07-5-10-SC;
2. Passage of RA 9946, otherwise known as "An Act Granting Additional Retirement Survivorship, & other Benefits to members of the Judiciary, amending for the purpose RA No. 910, as amended, and for other purposes";
3. Passage of RA No. 10154 ensuring the release of the retirement pay pensions gratuitous and other benefits of retiring government employees for retired PJA members and assisting in the immediate release of the benefits of retiring RTC Judges; and
4. Launching of PJA's Hall of Fame during the October 2011 Convention, with Five legal luminaries: Justice Ameurfina A. Melencio Herrera; Justice Carolina C. Grino-Aquino; Justice Ricardo Puno; Justice Bernardo P. Pardo; and Justice Romeo J. Callejo, as its first five inductees. The induction to the Hall of Fame is being observed every two (2) years.
5. Entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with the Chinese General Hospital that provides medical and hospitalization benefits to member judges. The agreement provides for the immediate confinement any PJA member of good standing without the required deposit or downpayment; it also extends fifty percent (50%) discount on room occupancy, laboratory, pulmonary and x-ray services for judges.
In 2013, during the term of President Franklin Demonteverde, the PJA was able to forge an agreement with the Land Bank of the Philippines for a real estate loan for judges. The said agreement provides, among others, for a higher loanable amount equivalent to 90% of the value of the Property to be purchased, with a special interest rate of 0.5% lower than the prevailing market rate. PJA, likewise, renewed its Memorandum of Agreement with the Chinese General Hospital which gives the judges certain privileges and benefits. To date, these special agreements with Land Bank and Chinese General Hospital continue to be available to its members.
During the term of Judge Ralph S. Lee (2013-2015), the PJA actively lobbied for the passing of a law that would provide hazard pay for the judges. The Hazard Pay bill for Judges was filed in the House of Representatives and the Senate during the Sixteenth Congress, and had been taken up by the Technical Working Committee. Unfortunately, the passage of the bill was overtaken by the 2016 Philippine National Elections.
At present, the PJA, under the leadership of Judge Hidalgo, is continuously working on the re-filing of the Hazard Pay bill in the House of Representatives and Senate. It has again renewed its Memorandum of Agreement with the Chinese General Hospital and has revived the original PJA office located at the basement of the Quezon City Hall of Justice. One of the projects of the present administration is the establishment of a cooperative for the benefit of the member-judges. In addition to the existing Memorandum of Agreement with Land Bank for housing loan for judges, the present leadership is looking into the feasibility of a housing project for its members. More importantly, the PJA, through President Georgina D. Hidalgo, has successfully petitioned the Supreme Court for the implementation of the first tranche of the salary increase. Truly, the PJA has been faithful to the purposes for which it has been established in 1983.
There are still many pressing concerns that the PJA’s present leadership has to address, viz:
1. Providing a comprehensive medical or health (group) insurance for PJA members:
2. Improvement of court facilities, maintenance and/or construction of halls of justice;
3. Pursuing and working for regional and/or significant concerns for PJA members such as, but not limited to; designation of cash clerk/personnel and maintenance of petty cash by the Offices of the clerks of court; reasonable lateral transfers within the level of the Supreme Court; leveling of caseloads in some stations; creation of more courts or branches in some stations; review of allowances from LGUs; transfer, maintenance and/or disposition of files or records or terminated cases; processing of gun licenses for security purposes; distribution of computers to different station; rationalizing schedules of seminars for judges and equal opportunities for foreign studies and travels; addressing the malicious filing of administrative complaints against judges by disgruntled litigant/lawyers; reinstatement of bailiff position in courts; proper supplies requisitions from the SC or lack of deliveries; rationalizing numerous reportorial requirements by the OCA.
Admittedly, there is a lot of work that remains to be done and more challenges to overcome. Still, the PJA and its members have every reason to look back and celebrate for; indeed it has come a long way. Banking on its glowing achievements for the past 33 years, there is every reason for everyone to believe that in the next 33 years and beyond, the PJA will maintain its prestigious and respectable place in Philippine Society. Under the able leadership of a succession of competent PJA officials, the mission and vision of the association are continuously being realized and ensured. The challenges of the next administration are to improve the benefits and emoluments of its members and to affirm its relevance and importance in the administration of justice in particular and the Philippine society in general.