Sula: Judgment in Makati


YEARS ago, a lawyer-friend of mine told a joke couched in a question about lawyers who barely passed the bar.

"What happened," he asked "to lawyers who get a grade of 75 in the bar exam?”

He answered his own question: they get to be appointed as judges.

As a backgrounder, my friend did good in his bar exam, almost making it to the top ten were it not for a single, lower grade in one of the subjects (Those who failed to land in the top bracket usually would claim to be number 11). In practice, he has won cases handled by those who had been bar topnotchers and made a name in the legal profession.

I didn't realize then that he was making a point or sharing an insight. But with what's happening today in the legal profession, with an almost Orwellian character to the headline cases happening in the country today. His joke isn't funny anymore. It begins to be frightening.

Many were shocked, though not surprised, that Trillanes would be arrested over a case that has already been dismissed by the same judge who has revived it now. On its face, this cannot be anything but a clear violation of the Constitutional provision on double jeopardy. In simple terms, a person cannot be tried twice for the same case.

The judge's decision is based on the voiding of Trillanes' amnesty granted by the state through then President Noynoy Aquino with the concurrence of Congress. This is no simple case because, as it is, it is already apparent that it is potentially leading to a constitutional crisis. Other Constitutional right are viewed by experts as already being trampled. More, unless, of course, the Supreme Court steps in promptly. Some members of the judiciary seems to be putty in dealing with what a lawmaker suggested the other night on TV of caving in on the pressure.

Why the Highest Tribunal hasn't yet ruled on the constitutionality of voiding Trillanes' amnesty is anybody's guess. I don't think it should be a hard one to make if it is based on principle, not pragmatism.

An earlier ruling took judicial notice of Duterte's sound bytes that no arrest would be made unless ordered by the court. The majority decision looked naive to some because it kept the door opened to the possibility the arrest could be done in some other "legal," not lawful, way even at the expense of the rule of law and the Constitution.

In the present scenario, the SC stands now as the ultimate bastion of the rule of law and democracy in the country. We are, as it were, already on the slippery slope. Those old enough when martial law was declared get the eerie feeling.

A prominent lawyer on a TV network said yesterday morning that lawyers are already in confusion over what they had learned in law school as opposed to the realities today. Some have reportedly decided not to teach law anymore.

Two weeks ago, I happened to see a movie titled "Judgment in Berlin" starred by Martin Sheen. The story was about the defection of a German from East Germany which was then occupied by Russia to West Germany which was occupied by the US. Only, he did it by hijacking a commercial plane using a toy gun.

The celebrated American judge, Herbert Stern, acquitted the accused on the ground that the prosecutors were so obsessed, to use Trillanes word, to lock the guy up at the expense of the United States Constitution.

I recommend the classic movie to current judges, especially those handling the case of Trillanes, all the way up to the Supreme Court. It is good for the battered soul as well as for the tensioned legal mind.


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