Kevin Lomax: Lose? I don’t lose! I win! I’m a lawyer, that’s my job, that’s what I do!
John Milton: I rest my case.
— From the movie The Devil’s Advocate
Turning a courthouse into a madhouse does not jive well with humanity’s idea of justice, let alone commonsense and tolerable slapstick.
Recently, the lawyers of Andal Ampatuan Jr.—the prime suspect in the massacre of 58 people including more than 30 journalists in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao in 2009—tried to discredit autopsy reports of 12 of the Ampatuan’s massacre victims. One Inquirer report said, “with one even bizarrely suggesting that the victims had bludgeoned themselves or that one of the female corpses was defiled by a necrophiliac.”
The report went on to say, ““Could it be possible that a victim was already dead before getting these alleged gunshot wounds?” asked Andres Manuel. “It could have been a heart ailment, asthma, appendicitis, or a seizure or epilepsy?” he added.
It was a grill tactic the defense lawyers of the Ampatuans designed to confuse Senior Inspector Dean Cabrera, who took the stand. Heading the defense lawyers was Sigfrid Fortun of Fortun Narvasa Salazar Law firm, who questioned the alleged “less-than-ideal conditions” surrounding the autopsy.
Atty. Fortun has been at the forefront of high-profile cases of murder and corruption, including those of Sen. Panfilo Lacson and former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada.
Why such blatant display of unprintable logic was allowed inside the courtroom of Quezon City Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes is anybody’s guess. It doesn’t help, too, that Cabrera, albeit firm in his report that the cause of death was gunshot wounds, teetered and said that the lawyers’ claims could be possible.
I’m sure Judge Solis-Reyes saw through the sleight of lips and could have reprimanded the lawyers for their inability to hold and posit a logical thought. But that we’ll never know.
As a boy growing up in the stone-hard hinterlands of Pasay City and Tramo, I have always wanted to be a lawyer. I was probably being my usual foolhardy self then, but it was a time when I thought lawyers represented the law. My reason was simple and noble: I wanted to defend the oppressed.
That was until age caught up with me, discovering, alas, to my dismay that many lawyers, though not all, choose to represent all but the law. What these represent are clients—with wads of money and with little or no respect for concepts of law and justice. It was the same time I took up the pen to write.
Far be it for me to say that I do not understand the nature of a lawyer’s job. As one writer puts it: “A lawyer’s relationship to justice and wisdom is on a par with a piano tuner’s relationship to a concert. He neither composes the music, nor interprets it. He merely keeps the machinery running.”
There are bills to pay, office expenses to cover, clothes rack to renew every so often, and family to feed. It’s a job, yes, one that should be enough to keep the lawyer alive.
But should it come down to this? I’ve seen America’s Stupid Criminals on cable TV but this beats the show hands down. Perhaps, quality time with the kids and wife could change some lawyers’ minds, while watching The Devil’s Advocate.
My message to the Ampatuan lawyers: We’re not laughing. We are not amused. In fact it’s hard to write a tongue-in-cheek essay on it all because the 58 people who were brutally murdered do not deserve such inhumane treatment. One, to this day, remains missing. Don’t even think the public is not insulted by such display of canker, madness and illogic. Filipinos are not stupid. We know a comedy of terrors when we hear one.
JOEL PABLO SALUD is the chief editor of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications, which include the BusinessMirror. He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle.