Associate Justice Rowena San Pedro (top left) leads the interactive session with discussants, Judges Rainelda Montesa (top center) and Wilhelmina Wagan (top right), and (from left) law professor JJ Disini, Police Lt. Col. June Abrazado, and Police Maj. Robert Reyes, with Judge Eric Pablo moderating.

The U.S. Embassy in the Philippines, through the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance, and Training (DOJ OPDAT), partnered with the Philippine Supreme Court Sub-Committee on Commercial Courts (SCC) and the Philippine Judicial Academy (PHILJA) to train 38 executive judges across the country against cybercrimes on February 10 and 11.

The training briefed the executive judges from the National Capital Judicial Region and Regions 1-12 on cybercrimes and the effective implementation of the Philippines’ Rules on Cybercrime Warrants (RCW). The participating executive judges oversee the special commercial courts designated as cybercrime courts.

Court of Tax Appeals Associate Justice Maria Rowena Modesto-San Pedro noted that the pandemic led many Filipinos to shift to online transactions. This also resulted in an alarming rise in the number of cybercrimes, which she said judges should be ready for.

“Thankfully, the Supreme Court, through PHILJA, with the gracious support of the US DOJ OPDAT, continues to roll out training workshops on cybercrime and RCW,” said San Pedro. “Not only do judges get to familiarize themselves with concepts like hash values, off-site search, forensic imaging, among others, but they also hone their skills in hearing applications for cybercrime warrants while ever cognizant of the right to privacy.”

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DOJ OPDAT Resident Legal Adviser Donald Calvert said the United States appreciates the continuing opportunities to partner with PHILJA to enhance the capabilities of the judiciary in the area of cyber warrants and digital evidence.

“Despite the pandemic, this important series of workshops has continued online with the support of DOJ partners in the U.S. and the Supreme Court here in the Philippines,” said Calvert.

Apart from San Pedro, SCC members who discussed the cybercrime law and provisions of the RCW were Judge Wilhelmina Jorge Wagan, Attorney Ricardo Blancaflor, and Justice Apolinario Bruselas, Jr. Former Philippine Court of Appeals Associate Justice and PHILJA Executive Secretary Ma. Luisa Quijano-Padilla also attended along with U.S. DOJ Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property Lab Director Ovie Carroll, who talked about digital evidence and international best practices on handling it.

In a culminating exercise, the judges examined and ruled on the applicability of the RCW in hypothetical cases.

The U.S. Embassy, through OPDAT, is working with Philippine partners to enhance anti-cybercrime capacity by training judges, prosecutors, investigators, and other government officials, and developing cybercrime training videos. OPDAT also helped develop a new cybercrime course for criminology schools nationwide, which has been approved by the Philippine Commission on Higher Education and is being implemented in the criminology departments of colleges and universities nationwide.

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