Judging the judges

LOOKING ASKANCE - Joseph Gonzales () - December 20, 2009 - 12:00am

I will probably just echo what other people are thinking about (and I’ve already read the same thought expressed in various websites and sound bites), but let me say it nonetheless. For a judge to decline to try a case because he fears for his safety means only one thing – he has to resign.

It was to the sala of Judge Luisito Cortez that the trial of Andal Ampatuan, Jr., the alleged mastermind (and principal suspect) of the Maguindanao massacre, was chucked into. And just as quickly, the case was chucked out, as the Honorable Judge himself filed a motion to disqualify his future participation.   There’s no such ground as being yellow or lack of backbone, so his Honor cited the threats to his safety as well as that of his family to take himself out of potential harm’s way.

I’ve never heard of a judge use this reason to immediately disqualify himself. Sure, the glare of the spotlights is ferocious, but media scrutiny shouldn’t be an issue. Various reasons came floating forward, but one of the strongest theories that came to mind was that Judge Cortez knew he was going to make a hard decision: either convict the Ampatuans (and he would forever be looking behind his back for the moment when the powerful clan would exact its revenge) or acquit the accused (in which case, he would have to bear the scorn of an entire nation. And maybe even from beyond.)

Yes, difficult spot indeed, but as I say when I have to wake up early in the morning and it’s not a weekend (and sometimes, even then): tough. That responsibility comes with the job, and if Judge Cortez can’t hack it, he has to step down and let someone else fill the shoes.

Which is why, I am now all praises for the female judge who stepped into the stilettos necessary to kick the judiciary back into respectability, Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes. 

As soon as the news broke out that Judge Reyes had accepted the raffling of the case to her sala, I got a text message from another feisty female, lauding the judge for her bravery and dedication, and asking me what I thought. What do I think? Well, much like Senator Alan Cayetano has said! (Although, he what he said was, “it takes a woman to do a man’s job”, while I thought more like; “She’s got the right equipment down there”).

Note, Judge Reyes didn’t even ask for security for herself. She’s that fearless. All I can think of right now is the hope that her courage will sustain her throughout the predictably extensive and extended proceedings. I hope she will preside over the case with even-handedness and sobriety. I hope she can control the high-powered and certainly razor-sharp counsel employed by the Ampatuans, whose mantra has been that they’re just doing their jobs. (Oh yes, and how ruthlessly they’ve been doing it.). I hope she doesn’t get lost in the heated moments of the pressure-packed trial, and that she keeps her head above the fray.

I don’t want to say I hope she hands down a conviction, because that would mean I’ve already prejudged the case. The news reports are damning, and every time I read the stories of the horrors inflicted on the victims, the way they were mutilated and laughed at on their way to their makeshift graves, I get this very emotional response of assigning blame and looking for someone to crucify. And looking at the emotionless faces of the Ampatuan accused, with nary a sign of remorse, or bewilderment at their predicament, or even feigned innocence, ain’t helping.

So kudos to the female judge, and full support. As for the male judge, harsher things have been said, but let’s stick to the basics. There are ideals, and unfortunately, he hasn’t lived up to them.

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