For nearly three years, technology has played a critical role in helping nations respond to the complex and constantly shifting realities brought about by COVID-19, accelerating digital adoption and transformation exponentially, even in the Philippines. Today, the scale of digital investments made by organizations throughout the pandemic, coupled with the new administration’s emphasis towards greater digital adoption in government, places the country in a strategic window of opportunity. Greater resiliency, sustained digital intensity, and lasting innovation are on the horizon, and the Supreme Court has provided an unmistakable framework for success.
In the early weeks of the pandemic, the national judiciary was brought to a halt by the national government’s quarantine impositions to curb the rapidly spreading Coronavirus. Legal proceedings could not be held, and detention facilities were pushed over capacity as a result.
In response, the Supreme Court issued Administrative Circular 37-2020, directing all Litigants, Judges and Court personnel of 925 First and Second Level Courts nationwide to immediately begin virtual court hearings using Microsoft 365’s Microsoft Teams platform.
In nine days, 4,683 Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDLs) were released, compared to 9,731 from the six weeks prior to implementation of Microsoft Teams.
By the end of 2020, almost 170,000 virtual hearings had been held across over 2,000 courts, resulting in the release of nearly 90,000 PDLs and children in conflict with the law, leading to the institutionalization of virtual proceedings on January 16, 2021, through the Supreme Court of the Philippines’ Guidelines on the Conduct of Videoconferencing.
Almost three years since, as of January 4, 2023, over 1.2 million virtual hearings have been conducted with a success rate of 89.51% and over 138,000 PDLs successfully processed—2,228 of whom were children in conflict with the law.
During this critical phase of transformation, the high court also migrated several of their most critical workloads to the cloud, such as enabling electronic filing of complaints and petitions—and submission of requirements—for bail for safer and more efficient processing. Microsoft 365 became the medium for communications and collaboration for the entire Judicial Branch of the Philippine Government. This ensured security and compliance, as well as creating interoperability among their other programs and innovations.
The Supreme Court’s achievement was unprecedented, transforming not only the 27,000 courts under its jurisdiction across the country, but enhancing and expediting the administration and dispensing of justice through more transparent proceedings--creating more effective and responsive mechanisms and better serving Filipinos at every level of the justice system. But most importantly, the Supreme Court provides a model that can scale across the entire coalition of national justice, public safety, and security agencies in the country.
Reimagining Public Safety and Justice for the Philippines
The national public safety and justice coalition of the Philippine government is comprised of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, Office of the Solicitor General, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB), the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, as well as agencies under the Department of Justice (DOJ) including the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the Bureau of Corrections, the Parole and Probation Administration (PPA), and the Bureau of Immigration. These agencies form the five pillars of law enforcement, prosecution, courts, correction, and community.
In 2020, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) signed a Memorandum of Agreement that formalizes their commitment to collaborate with the involved agencies in the greater justice system to develop and implement the National Justice Information System (NJIS), an ICT platform that unifies all involved agencies through seamless and secure information management systems and inter-agency exchange mechanisms.
“Technology offers the way forward in unifying the Philippines’ coalition of justice, safety and security agencies in an unprecedented and truly transformative way,” said Joanna Rodriguez, Microsoft Philippines Director of Public Sector Business. “Regardless of oversight or area of operation, the strategic implementation of cloud technology can eliminate the many operational challenges this coalition faces, in turn providing more effective citizen services to our nation.”
Microsoft aims to address challenges across all pillars of the Philippines’ public safety and justice system. Currently, they are working with the Supreme Court and the DOJ on a common judiciary platform, streamlining case management and hearings. This effort is similar to Microsoft’s work with the Mexican Supreme Court, wherein they worked to digitize millions of physical files and built a legal search engine for its citizens using language models made with artificial intelligence and Azure cognitive services.
Building a stronger, more resilient Philippines
Microsoft is also working to build Zero Trust frameworks across various agencies. This will provide the necessary foundation on which digital innovations can be built securely moving forward. Bolstering cybersecurity and the application of emerging technologies are also being explored such as advanced analytics, automation, document digitization, speech-to-text solutions and artificial intelligence. Building digital skills is also a key priority, with the Supreme Court formalizing programs to address the technology skills gap in the judiciary.
“The Philippines is in a unique position to capitalize on the new administration’s collective emphasis on digital intensity and the scale at which the nation has already applied technology over the last two and a half years,” said Microsoft Philippines’ Director of Public Sector Business, Joanna Rodriguez. “This is a tremendous, unprecedented opportunity for the country, as well as a critical imperative that public and private sector organizations must join hands in embracing. At Microsoft, we recognize the enormous potential this moment carries. Long-term innovation and positive impact for all stakeholders of justice and public safety can become a reality and we are fully committed to bringing the full weight of our technology to bear to bring the nation’s ambitions to life.”