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A day in court, a day in jail

/ 05:20 AM December 30, 2017

Recently, and for the first time in my life, I was in a court of justice to serve as a witness of the bank of which I am a consultant against a client charged with estafa. I was cautious, as a shooting incident had happened in the same sala where the complainant was shot by the accused, killing him instantly.

I arrived before 8:30 a.m., the time indicated in my subpoena. The room was filled with accused persons, complainants, witnesses, lawyers, police personnel, and other people when the judge arrived past 9 a.m. I was seated beside a young woman in handcuffs, her boyfriend, and a policewoman. In the back were 12 accused men, also in handcuffs, with four police escorts.

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Soon the hearings began. The first case involved illegal drugs and illegal possession of firearms, and the first witness was a barangay councilor who narrated how he, along with members of the National Bureau of Investigation and covered by the media, had served the warrant. I witnessed for the first time how pieces of evidence — plastic bags full of a white substance, a grenade and a gun — were presented to the court. I also saw the witness pointing his finger at the accused. The prosecution and the defense argued with each other like in the movies, only not as dramatic.

Next was a rape case. The witness was a policewoman who narrated how the complainant had approached and told her about the crime, and how she met the alleged rapist, a young man, that same night.

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A case of qualified theft followed. A woman took the witness stand, the prosecution and the defense argued, and the accused was pointed at.

I also witnessed the presentation of voluminous documents, identified as exhibits, to the court. It took three hours for the lawyer to identify each and give manifestations. The case was filed against a public official charged with corruption.

Soon it was past noon, and the graft hearing was not yet over. The judge called a recess. Before taking my break, I asked the clerk of court about the number of my case. She told me to talk to the fiscal, only to be informed that the accused had already paid his obligation and there was no need for me to testify.

It was 2 p.m. I had been in the courtroom for more than six hours. I proceeded to the bank as I still had clients to attend to. Back at work, I thought it was fortunate that no untoward incident happened in the courtroom that day. I also mused on the society we are in, our judicial system, the future of our young.

A few days later, I was in the city jail with our parish priest, a lawyer, and a group of volunteers to do church work called “Restorative Justice.” It being the Christmas season, we brought goodies for the inmates.

Restorative Justice is a project of the church to ease the plight of the inmates. We employ a holistic approach that covers free legal assistance, livelihood, integration, and assistance for the general welfare of the inmates and their families, etc. Volunteers can serve as paralegals, counselors to the inmates’ families, catechists, and donors.

The inmates number 1,200: 990 men and 210 women under trial or serving prison terms of less than three years. Most of the women are young, others in their midlife, and are accused of crimes related to drugs. The men are accused of rape, homicide, and illegal possession of firearms or drugs.

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During our group’s stay, we spoke with the jail officials about the inmates’ wellbeing, the status of their stay, their relatives’ visits, etc. We saw happiness on the inmates’ faces and felt hope in their hearts despite their incarceration.  When they sang a Christian song, some of our female members were moved to tears. Our parish priest blessed the inmates before we left. “Thank you, family,” they chorused.

Volunteerism is man’s act of kindness for others. God’s harvests are abundant. We pray that He provides more laborers for His vineyard.

* * *

Mario D. Dalangin is a past grand knight of the Knights of Columbus and a member of the Special Minister of the Eucharist and of Adoracion Nocturna Filipina at Fatima Parish, Las Piñas City.

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TAGS: day in court, estafa case, Inquirer Commentary, Mario D. Dalangin, Restorative Justice
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