Illustration by Carla T. Gamalinda

THE FATE of the most dreaded man in the country today lies in the hands of a Thomasian.

Former Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr., who was alleged to have masterminded the murder of 57 people, including 31 journalists, in Maguindanao last November 23 is facing multiple murder charges before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) with Thomasian Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes holding the gavel.

The same is true to the whole Ampatuan clan and around 200 others who are undergoing investigation at the Department of Justice over a panel of prosecutors led by State prosecutor Roseanne Balauag.

Solis-Reyes, a graduate of the Faculty of Civil Law in 1986, took the place of the Judge Luisito Cortez, who refused to take on the case for fear for his life and safety. The presiding judge of Quezon City RTC Branch 22 welcomed the controversial case at her sala with vigor and composure, rejecting any proposed security detail for her safety. Nonetheless, the Philippine National Police has had some of its men monitor her.

True to her Thomasian values of upholding the truth, Solis-Reyes has become more than a judge in a much celebrated case. Her unenviable task is to ferret out the truth by conducting a fair and impartial trial in the brutal killing of people, mostly media men, which has put the Philippines ahead of war-torn Iraq in being the most dangerous place for journalists.

Similarly, Balauag of Batch 1988 carries on her shoulders the weight of determining whether the government has a case against the Ampatuan clan, and whether it could stick in court. Her job of finding probable cause to indict 200 others in the massacre is equally important as that of Solis-Reyes. For sure, killing 57 people could not be done by one person alone. Balauag’s duty as member of the prosecution panel is to identify who served as accomplices to the crime based on probable evidence.

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It is good to acknowledge that these women— Balauag and Solis-Reyes— are working hand in hand in the Ampatuan case as prosecutor and judge, respectively. Though they may find themselves soon opposing each other inside the courtroom, the public could expect fairness and impartiality from these women who came from the oldest law school in the land that had made history through its illustrious alumni who have shown commitment not only to the call of truth and justice, but also to their Thomasian education. Notable ones include former Supreme Court Associate Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, who became famous for her landmark decision that declared the state of emergency imposed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2007 unconstitutional, and Diosdado Peralta, who was among those who convicted former president Joseph Estrada of plunder when he was still with the Sandiganbayan.

This excellence has long been recognized by the whole law profession in the country. Proof of this are the four Thomasian magistrates sitting at the High Court: Peralta and Associate Justices Lucas Bersamin (who are teaching at the Civil Law), Renato Corona (who took his doctorate in law at the Graduate School), and former Law dean Roberto Abad. Apart from bringing pride to UST Law, the case against the Ampatuans is an opportunity for the entire Philippine law profession to restore the faith of the people to the justice system.

And with the murder of yesteryear still fresh on people’s minds, they would definitely be keeping a close watch over the case and make sure it would not be left rotting in the back burner like other cases this administration has faced. Not even the election fever could stop Filipinos, most of whom have expressed their dissatisfaction over the Arroyo administration, to earnestly wait for the outcome of this whole drama and to expect harsher punishment— and not a mere slap on the wrist— to those behind the massacre. Hopefully, it won’t be that long.

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Balauag and Solis-Reyes could just well be the instruments to achieve that. Given their Thomasian foundation, they have the competence to act and decide fairly on the daunting cases, ultimately raising the status of UST Law, and salvaging the disintegrating trust of the public to the justice system in the process.

Simply put, the Ampatuan case is a make or break for UST Law and the entire Philippine law profession.

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