Chasm between theory and practice
Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said on radio and national TV earlier this month that he would surrender his license (and never practice law for the rest of his life!) if the Presidential Electoral Tribunal would rule in favor of Bongbong Marcos in the latter’s protest against his client, Vice President Leni Robredo. He expressed extreme confidence that they cannot lose because the law and jurisprudence are on their side.
I recall uttering (or was I just muttering?) the same thing amidst criminal cases I was handling pro bono in defense of a client. The charges arose out of a rumble between two rival fraternities. Then a college student in his early 20s belonging to one frat, my client stood accused of having committed crimes in conspiracy with his fellow fratmen, punishable up to life imprisonment.
Among several complainants belonging to the other frat, only one testified (months after the incident) that he saw my client, among others, participate in the attack resulting in the death of one of them. That lone witness had earlier told policemen and medical personnel who attended to his minor wounds (just moments after the incident) that he could NOT recognize any of the attackers because they were wearing masks.
By dint of overwhelming jurisprudence, such flip-flopping and uncertain testimony would naturally raise very serious doubts about its truthfulness. Standing alone and without any corroboration, it is no good. Yet, “guilt beyond reasonable doubt” was upheld all the way up to the Supreme Court as my client was lumped together with the rest of the accused despite questions vigorously raised about his being anywhere at or near the scene of the crime. And while arguing that several witnesses were able to identify the other attackers, neither the prosecutors nor the solicitor general ever argued against the fact that no one else saw my client there at any time during the attack.
Now in his 40s, my client has been languishing in jail for crimes he should have been acquitted of on grounds of “reasonable doubt” at the very least. To this very day, I still have sleepless nights about his fate, unable to completely wrap my mind around the basic principles I learned in law school about the rules of evidence being rendered irrelevant. Has it not been said time and again that it is better to let 10 guilty men go free than one innocent man wrongly imprisoned? Alas, that, too, became meaningless.
It was a good thing, though, that I merely whispered (muttered!)—in strict confidence—to a fellow defense counsel then (who said he, too, would say the same if my client had been his instead) what lawyer Macalintal has said loudly and publicly. That, indeed, is a very dangerous thing. The chasm between practice and the hornbook lessons learned in classrooms is sometimes unfathomable. Law practitioners should be careful of what they wish for…
STEPHEN L. MONSANTO, Monsanto Law Office, Loyola Heights, Quezon City
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