In 1998, while working as a Court Attorney in the Court of Appeals of the Philippines, Rowena Nieves A. Tan, had the opportunity to come to Rome to attend the “Development Lawyers Course”, a flagship 12-week course organized by IDLO to provide practical training on a range of basic lawyering skills, as well as more specialized legal topics.
Today she is the Presiding Judge of a Regional Trial Court in Pasay City, Metro Manila, the Philippines, where she adjudicates civil, criminal and drug cases.
IDLO recently spoke to her about her recollections of the time she spent in Rome, how the training has helped her in her work as a judge, as well as how the COVID-19 crisis is impacting on her court.
Which parts of the IDLO training did you enjoy most?
I liked the engaging, interactive and practical approach to the course. Also, the case studies and the exercises, especially on negotiation, mediation and contract drafting. I was impressed by the lecturers who came from different parts of the world and were experts in their field. I also appreciated the focus on problems of developing countries where all the participants came from. The IDLO staff took good care of us and treated us as friends, making our stay in Rome truly memorable.
How did the training you received at IDLO help you in your later work?
Alternative Dispute Resolution was one of my favorite subjects and I find it very useful now that I'm a judge. We have Judicial Dispute Resolution in our judicial process where we resort to negotiation and mediation to help the parties resolve their disputes thus helping unclog the dockets of the court and ensuring a better outcome for both parties. I also lecture on the subject at the Philippine Judicial Academy.
Are you still in touch with any of your fellow participants?
I'm still in contact with Sara Sotelo (from Peru). Sara was my closest friend because we shared many interests. I miss my other classmates who were also wonderful. I wish we could have a reunion one day, in Rome, when the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Hopefully, soon.
Rowena Tan (second row, second from left) with her fellow participants and IDLO staff at the Development Lawyers Course in 1998
Have you had a chance to follow how IDLO has developed since you came to Rome?
I am happy to know that what was once an institute is now an international organization. I have a friend from the Philippines, Rea Abada Chiongson, who works for IDLO in The Hague and we have shared some ideas and notes on women's rights. I also met the former Director-General at the 62nd UN Commission on the Status of Women in 2018 where I was a panelist for a discussion on “Urban Justice, City Justice: Perspectives of Women Judges”, organized by the International Association of Women Judges, of which I am a member. I congratulate the new Director-General of IDLO, Jan Beagle, and wish her all the best.
What are some of the challenges you face as a female judge in the Philippines and how do you think the justice sector can benefit from women’s professional participation?
I consider myself fortunate to be a female judge in the Philippines where women's rights are advanced compared to other jurisdictions where women are discriminated against and not even allowed to become judges. We have had two female Chief Justices in the Philippines. I think that speaks well of the high regard for female judges in the Philippines. The number of female judges in the Philippines is also almost equal to that of male judges. Perhaps our challenge as female judges is how to apply our feminine genius to promote equality under the law and make justice accessible to the many poor in the Philippines who are unaware of their rights under the law and are often disadvantaged because of that.
How is the current COVID-19 crisis impacting your work?
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have physically closed our courts to prevent the spread of the virus and protect lives. But we operate online where we attend to the most urgent matters like applications for bail, motions to release accused, etc. Case hearings have been postponed and this will result in delays, but in the hierarchy of rights, the right to life is superior to the right to a speedy trial.
I just issued online a release order for three prisoners who have fully served their sentence. I am happy that our courts, even if physically closed, are functioning and continue to render justice even in the time of COVID-19.
I think our biggest challenge is the delay in the proceedings caused by the temporary closure of our courts. We will just have to make up for it, work doubly hard, once the pandemic is over. But as I said before, lives have to be protected and saved and we can only do that through the lockdown.
There are also less crimes being committed now that people are locked down in their homes and spending more time with their families. I guess that's good news. In every storm, there is always a silver lining.