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Being a judge, a calling to be at risk

(Article published in the Jan 6, 2010 issue of Manila Standard Today)  

 It was only meet and just that security precautions were by the authorities put in place to ensure that Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes was safe and secure, and will continue to be so for as long as necessary, while she goes about the challenging task of hearing the case against the Ampatuans. 

 Sitting in judgment over competing interests has never been easy and it is all the more difficult when the contending parties consider that what is at risk is so significant or so precious to them as to excuse in their minds (albeit not justify in court) resort to all types of means, both fair and foul.

 We were studying at the Ateneo Law School, located at that time on Padre Faura Street diagonally  across the Supreme Court, when, right before our eyes, unfolded the incidents that are subject of People vs Sarmiento, No. L-26183, promulgated June 19, 1975. 

 Three Supreme Court justices, who constituted the swing votes in the Electoral Tribunal of the House of Representatives, were at that time being subjected to some death threats as the first division was then hearing the electoral protest involving the lone district of Cavite in the election of 1961.  Apparently to demonstrate to the justices the seriousness of their threats, the perpetrators decided to run what might be called a “dress rehearsal”










     

Relates the ponencia: Relates the ponencia: “In the afternoon of March 12, 1965, the Electoral Tribunal of the House of Representatives was holding a session in the Supreme Court building at the corner of Taft Avenue and Padre Faura Streets, Manila.  Atty. Manuel G. Verzosa was the deputy clerk of the first division of the Electoral Tribunal and as such was authorized to receive evidence relative to pending cases in the division and to submit a report thereon.  One of such pending cases deliberated upon was the electoral protest of Fernando Campos against Justiniano Montano involving the congressional seat for the lone district of Cavite in the election of 1961.  Shortly before 4:30 in the afternoon of that day, Atty. Verzosa went down to his car parked inside the Supreme Court Compound.  As he was about to open the door of his car in order to board it a lone gunman who had been waiting for him fired at close range using a .45 caliber firearm.  The first shot missed the victim.  The second one hit him at the corner of the upper lip and the bullet came out at the back of the head to the left, macerating the brain and fracturing the skull.  He fell on the ground on his back beside his car.  As if to make sure that the victim was dead, the assailant fired two more times at the still body before him, hitting the victim in the face and in the neck.  At the time of the shooting, a group of boy scouts of the U.P. Preparatory School were drilling on the lawn in front of the Rizal Hall building adjacent to the Supreme Court.  They immediately cordoned the lifeless body of the victim until the authorities arrived.  At the scene were found four empty .45 caliber shells.  A .45 caliber bullet was also found on the ground beneath the neck of the deceased.”

Evelio B. Javier, upon hearing of the shooting, immediately ran to  Fr. Joseph O’Brien, S.J., then holding office in the building as our Student Counsellor, fetching him to administer the final rites. 

The assailant was apprehended and was tried and eventually convicted for murder by the Court of First Instance of Manila.  The presiding judge was Ruperto Kapunan, Jr.,

Administering justice is, more often than not, not good for the health of the judge.  From a quick scan of the internet, the site Symbianize lists the following judges as having been killed in the line of duty: Hon. ROBERTO NAVIDAD, died, January 14, 2008, Regional Trial Court Branch 32, Calbayog City; Hon. ORLANDO VELASCO
July 27, 2007, Regional Trial Court Branch 63, Bayawan City, Negros Oriental; Hon. NATHANIEL PATTUGALAN, January 19, 2007, Municipal Trial Court in Baggao, Cagayan, Hon. SAHARA SILONGAN
December 3, 2006, Regional Trial Court Branch 15, Cotabato City, Hon. HENRICK F. GINGOYON
December 31, 2005, Regional Trial Court Branch 117, Pasay City, Hon. ESTRELLITA M. PAAS
September 23, 2005, Pasay City Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 44, Hon. MILNAR T. LAMMAWIN, 51
August 9, 2004, Regional Trial Court Branch 25, Tabuk, Kalinga, Hon. PATERNO G. TIAMSON
February 21, 2004, Regional Trial Court Branch 69, Binangonan, Rizal, Hon. VOLTAIRE Y. ROSALES
June 10, 2004, Regional Trial Court Branch 83 of Tanauan, Batangas, Hon. PINERA A. BIDEN, May 17, 2003, Municipal Circuit Trial Court of Kabugao, Apayao, Hon. EUGENIO R. VALLES
April 25, 2002, Regional Trial Court Branch 3, Nabunturan, Compostela Valley,Hon. OSCAR GABY M. USON, September 27, 2002, Regional Trial Court Branch 52 in Tayug, Pangasinan, Hon. ARISTON L. RUBIO, October 31, 2001,Regional Trial Court Branch 17, Batac, Ilocos Norte,Hon. HASSAN T. IBNOHAIJIL, February 5, 2001, Regional Trial Court Branch 45, San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, Hon. CELSO F. LORENZO, SR.,November 1, 1999, Regional Trial Court Branch 1 in Borongan, Eastern Samar.

 I cannot, and thus do not vouch for the accuracy of the list. Nor do I maintain their exhaustiveness.  All I am saying is that, in this day and age, being a judge does require courage of sterling quality.

     

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