MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) has directed trial court judges to prioritize cases involving domestic violence against women and children, which have seen a spike during the COVID-19 pandemic, Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo said on Thursday, March 31.
In a keynote message during the launch of HerStory: Gender Award of Distinction at the Manila Hotel, Gesmundo discussed how the pandemic has uniquely affected women, including women in the judiciary.
When the Philippines imposed hard lockdowns in various parts of the country in the first months of the pandemic, watchdog groups warned of an increase in incidents of domestic violence against women and children. But in May 2020, government data showed a drop in reported incidents.
The figures could have meant less prevalence of abuse, but it could have also pointed to something even more harrowing: the inability of abused women and children to report to authorities.
On Thursday’s event, almost two years later, Gesmundo revealed there was a “disturbing” spike in recorded incidents of domestic violence against women and children.
This prompted the SC to direct judges to expedite the resolution of such cases, and issue urgent forms of relief such as temporary protection orders, permanent protection orders, and writ of habeas corpus.
“We shall continue to train our judges to handle these cases with utmost sensitivity, but always with fairness and impartiality,” said Gesmundo.
Women in the judiciary also experienced the additional burdens of working from home due to quarantine restrictions, while taking care of their children at the same time, Gesmundo said.
This prompted the Chief Justice to propose the establishment of child-minding centers in courts to ease the double workload of women court officials and employees.
“We are all too familiar with stories of women multi-tasking with an open Zoom meeting while cooking or tending to their children at the same time. Their quality of life has been greatly diluted,” Gesmundo said.
The Chief Justice also lamented the increase in mental health issues amid the pandemic. “Recently, we lost one of our judges who suffered from post-partum depression. To say it is tragic does not approximate the loss experienced by her family and the community she served, nor the loss of our institution,” he said.
The judiciary aims to help address this problem by setting up mental health units in courts nationwide.
“The mental health of our officials and employees, our justices and judges, had been largely neglected in the past. Not anymore,” he said.
Mental health issues amid the pandemic rose not only among women in the Philippines, but worldwide.
The HerStory event was launched as a search for stories of women judges who faced gender-related challenges in relation to their roles as jurists. Three winners will be chosen for the Gender Award of Distinction for 2022.
During the pandemic, women were also disproportionately affected when Filipinos were pushed out of the labor force as they had to take on additional responsibilities of overseeing online schooling for their children.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s highly militarized pandemic response revealed incidents of alleged police abuse. Sex workers were made to give sexual favors to cops just to cross quarantine borders, and some were averse to reporting the abuses.
In April 2020, the barangay captain of Pandacaqui in Pampanga made LGBTQ+ quarantine violators do lewd acts as punishment. Minors in Liliw, Laguna were allegedly ordered by a police station commander to reenact their offenses on camera “with feelings” – an act the Ateneo Human Rights Center condemned. – with reports from Michelle Abad/Rappler.com