Lady judge (and Ace Vergel fan) cited for speedy justiceBy Erika Sauler
Philippine Daily Inquirer
In her office are boxes of neatly filed index cards colored red, white, yellow, orange and blue, reminding her of the lives at stake under the justice system and the urgency with which she should act on their cases.
These seemingly simple measures, plus a strict enforcement of a time table, enabled Judge Emily L. San Gaspar-Gito to steadily cut the backlog of cases pending in her sala from 626 to 74 in just four years. She did it by resolving an average of 33 cases a month.
Gito, who presides over Branch 20 of the Manila Metropolitan Trial Court, is one of the judges being honored by the Supreme Court Monday for doing her share in erasing the judiciary’s image as a creaking, snail-paced machinery.
“You have to give a face to the records. If you consider them as mere paper work, then you can sit on these cases without feeling guilty,” Gito said in an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
“But if you think about the people awaiting your decision, you will be more careful and at the same time you will speed things up.”
The 39-year-old judge is receiving the Don Antonio P. Madrigal Award for judicial excellence in ceremonies scheduled Monday at the Manila Hotel. In 2010, she was named most outstanding judge of Manila, and a model Supreme Court employee in 2007.
Her seven-year stint as a researcher in the Supreme Court gave her the idea of using a color-coding system for pending cases.
Since taking over Manila MTC-Branch 20 in 2008, she has kept tabs
on each case with index card notes filed in wooden boxes.
The red cards represent small-claims cases, which should be settled immediately. Orange indicates that someone is in jail for that case. White is for criminal cases where no one has been arrested yet. Yellow is for civil cases, while blue is for cases of reckless imprudence.
The corresponding folders for the documents on each case follow the same color scheme. A special lavender folder indicates whether her past orders or judgments have already been executed, otherwise it would be an empty victory for the winning party. “Once in a while I ask my sheriff if the court order has been executed,” she explained.
The index card system has a digital version in spreadsheet format which allows her to easily spot cases that have gone idle and need prompt action.
“It’s a simple system but it helps. As a judge, you should be able to gauge your performance so that you would know when you need to put in extra effort,” she said.
But also crucial to her battle against backlogs is a strictly observed schedule of court proceedings. Gito avoids unnecessary delays, for example, by limiting the examination of a witness to just one day “because more often than not, the witness will be absent in the next hearing.”
Most of her resolutions are promptly released. “Regarding motions to release a person because the case has been dismissed or bail was posted, why let the parties wait?” she said.
Gito also directs her process server and court sheriff to personally deliver notices to the parties concerned to avoid postponements due to late notifications.
According to her, the more courtroom stenographers, the better. “Even if a judge is willing to dispose of more cases, the stenographer will have a hard time coping with the workload. There are about 10 hearings held each day which a stenographer needs to transcribe,” she said.
A native of Laguna province, Gito knew as early as age nine that she wanted to enter the legal profession. “For me, it’s this or nothing,” she said.
She chuckled when asked what inspired her at such a young age: “You will be surprised; I just saw an Ace Vergel movie.” She could not recall the title, but she said the movie featured the late action star playing the role of a lawyer defending the poor.
Gito took up political science at the University of Santo Tomas and finished law in San Beda College in 1997. After passing the bar, she worked as a legal researcher for three years at the Court of Appeals before moving to the Supreme Court.
Gito currently holds key positions in various judicial organizations: executive vice president of the Metropolitan Trial Court and City Judges Association of the Philippines; vice president for MeTC judges of the Philippine Women Judges Association; and vice president of the Metropolitan Judges of Manila.
“I wanted to be a lawyer to help people attain justice. And now as a judge, I am in a better position to dispense justice,” she said. “I don’t have any grand dream or earth-shattering aspirations; I just want to be true to my job.”