RANCHO, a fictitious character from the inspirational Indian film Three Idiots (2009) gave another character this advice: “Make your passion your profession.” It was something he said when a friend of his was about to give up on achieving his dream career.
The same is true for Court of Appeals Associate Justice Maria Filomena “Monette” Singh, a 2009 Hubert H. Humphrey fellow who, despite life’s adversities, never gave up on her dream career. As a Fulbrighter, she studied Court Management and Judicial Education at the American University at Washington, D.C. in the United States. That same passion helped her become the first Philippine Judicial Fellow to be accepted into the Humphrey Program.
“I am passionate about the judicial and legal systems in the country. When I dedicate myself to a cause, I see it through to completion. In my work in reform, I see it as a lifetime commitment. I feel I owe it to our people, but most of all, I think of the institution I love so dearly, the Supreme Court, which I hope will be restored to its rightful lofty place in our democracy,” she said.
During her Fulbright, she became a fellow at the Federal Judicial Center and did her apprenticeship with the World Bank’s Institutional Reform Cluster. She specifically handled judicial reform projects in Europe and Central Asia. According to her, one of her most memorable experiences was attending U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments.
Justice Singh embodied the spirit of resilience while in the U.S. When asked about her difficulties abroad, she answered that she didn’t have much trouble in terms of her day-to-day tasks. “Filipinos are really excelling in every field everywhere in the world. We have no difficulty adjusting to our environment and this adaptability has made us thrive even outside our homeland.” But she added that if there was any struggle, it was being separated from hearth and home. “I had to bear being apart from my children for the duration of the Fellowship. The solution is to keep myself busy.”
The lawyer is a teacher
Singh graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines with a bachelor’s degree in English, Major in Imaginative Writing and proceeded to earn her Juris Doctor degree from the Ateneo de Manila University School of Law with honorable distinction.
She practiced law for 10 years before joining the judiciary in 2002 as the Presiding Judge of Branch 31 of the Metropolitan Trial Court of Quezon City. She was appointed Executive Judge thereafter and served two terms in that capacity. By the time of her promotion, she was bestowed the Don Antonio Madrigal Award as Most Outstanding First Level Court Judge of 2007 by the Society for Judicial Excellence of the Supreme Court.
While passionate about her legal pursuits, she was also equally consumed by her love for teaching.
“I think I was really born to be a teacher. I’ve been a professor at the University of the Philippines College of law for four years while I’ve also been teaching at the Ateneo de Manila University for the last 12 years,” she said.
Being an educator demonstrates her commitment to paying forward what she has learned from her Fulbright experience and upholding the ideals of the Humphrey Fellowship.
For Justice Singh, the word “significance” became a very relevant term during her Fulbright grant. “Nothing anyone ever does is ‘insignificant.’ As long as any one man or woman or child devotes his or her time to something, that something acquires ‘significance’ and a world that compartmentalizes people and events into the ‘significant’ and the ‘insignificant’ is a world that may already exist in glass and concrete enclaves but is still morally trapped in the caves of our forebears,” she said.
In this modern world that needs committed leaders and genuine influencers, being significant is not a priority for Singh. But staying passionate to her profession definitely is.