Cecilia Muñoz-Palma

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Cecilia Muñoz-Palma 2009 stamp of the Philippines

Cecilia Muñoz-Palma (November 22, 1913 — January 2, 2006) was the first woman appointed to sit on the Supreme Court of the Philippines. She was appointed by President Ferdinand Marcos on October 29, 1973, and served in the Court until she reached the then-mandatory retirement age of 65. She later served as the president of the 1986 Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution.


The daughter of a congressman from Batangas, Muñoz-Palma earned her law degree from the University of the Philippines, and a Master of Laws degree from Yale University. She became the first woman prosecutor of Quezon City in 1947. Seven years later, she became the first female district judge when she was named a trial court judge for Negros Oriental. [1] In the next few years, she was assigned as a judge to Laguna and Rizal until her appointment to the Court of Appeals in 1968, the second woman ever to be appointed to the appellate court. [2] In 1973, she again made history, this time as the first female Supreme Court Associate Justice, preceding by eight years Sandra Day O'Connor, the first female justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Dissenter from martial rule

By the time she retired from the Court in 1978, Muñoz-Palma had become identified, along with Claudio Teehankee, as a dissenter from rulings that affirmed the decrees and actions enforced by her appointer, President Marcos, during his martial law rule. As early as 1975, she had expressed skepticism that "a referendum under martial rule can be of no far-reaching significance as it is accomplished under an atmosphere or climate of fear." (Aquino v. COMELEC, G.R. No. L-40004, 31 January 1975, J. Muñoz-Palma, Separate Opinion ) The following year, she voted against allowing Marcos the right to propose amendments to the Constitution by himself, and in doing so, ventured to call for the lifting of martial law itself. [3] In a later dissent, she added that "under a martial law regime there is, undeniably, repression of certain rights and freedoms, and any opinion expressed would not pass the test of a free and untrammeled expression of the will of the people. That "(M)artial law connotes power of the gun, meant coercion by the military, and compulsion and intimidation" was so stated by President Ferdinand E. Marcos upon proclamation of martial law in the country." [4]

After her retirement from the Court, Muñoz-Palma emerged as a prominent figure in the anti-Marcos political opposition. 1984, she was elected to the Batasang Pambansa as a Member of Parliament representing Quezon City. She headed for a time a National Unification Council that sought to unify all anti-Marcos opposition groups. She also became an early supporter of the attempt to draft the then-reluctant Corazon Aquino to run for the presidency against Marcos.

1986 Constitutional Commission and later life

After Aquino assumed the presidency in 1986, Muñoz-Palma called in vain for the retention of the Batasang Pambansa. When Aquino created the 1986 Constitutional Commission to draft the new Constitution, she appointed Muñoz-Palma as one of its members. The Commission would later elect her as its President.

Following the ratification of the 1987 Constitution, Muñoz-Palma faded from the public eye. However, in 1998, she supported Joseph Estrada for the presidency. After his election, President Estrada appointed the 85-year old Muñoz-Palma as Chairperson of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office. She served in this capacity until 2000. Muñoz-Palma strongly denounced the circumstances that led to Estrada's vacation of the presidency and the assumption into office of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Muñoz-Palma died on January 2, 2006, at the age of 92.

Some notable opinions


  1. ^ Justices of the Supreme Court of the Philippines Vol. III, p. 94.
  2. ^ Justices of the Supreme Court of the Philippines Vol. III, p. 94.
  3. ^ G.R. No. L-47771 Supreme Court of the Philippines (1978-03-11). Retrieved on 2007-01-13.
  4. ^ G.R. No. L-47245 Supreme Court of the Philippines (1977-12-09). Retrieved on 2007-01-13.


  • de Guzman,Jovita V.,Vicente A. Santiago,Remedios T. de Leon and Teresita E. Erestain. Women Of Distinction; Biographical Essays on Outstanding Filipino Women of the Past and the Present. Philippines: Bukang Liwayway, 1967



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