Saturday, June 16, 2017
The moment I heard about Humanitarian Legal Assistance Foundation and what the organization stands for, I’ve fixed my mind into going there for my internship. There is something human in helping people the state has deemed immoral and are more or less banished from society in a relative period of time. For me, HLAF is about “giving chances” to people many have given up on and considering it is done by the same cut of individuals who put them into jail – it is inspiring.
Of course, there is also the appeal of the experience and information I would gather for my most-important thesis. It is what I used to justify my application there to my parents when they vehemently opposed it. They did not like the thought of their daughter going into jails (and I was very excited when I was telling them about it too! -_-). Prisoners are locked behind bars for a reason, any normal parent would not want any of their children in their company and that is perfectly understandable. So I relented and contacted Movement for a Livable Cebu (MLC) if they still had a spot for interns. MLC was always my second choice since they were the org my group featured in a magazine for a project in one of our classes last semester. But things happened and ultimately I went to HLAF.
We went to Kalunasan to visit CPDRC. I have never been there but it was one hell of a ride! I pitied our Uber driver, I don’t think he expected the challenging terrain too but he was pleasant, nonetheless. The sight that greeted us was a mob in the entrance of the male dormitory. It was Saturday and that apparently meant prisoners get to receive visitors with their gifts (mostly food).
It didn’t take us long to be ushered in the administrative building. The people there were extremely friendly and accommodating, as it was obvious they were quite fond and used to the presence of Atty. Alvarez.
She apologized to them for the speaker she invited could not make it and proceeded to ready her presentation; she joked that she should take pictures of her “struggle is real” moments and send it to HLAF so they’d buy her a projector. She showed a short clip about the history and the implementation of the Mandela Rules. I couldn’t help but giggle at the sight of a handful of manly jail officers crowding around a laptop to see the video better.
Atty. Alvarez proceeded with her presentation, discussing the revised jail rules and an introduction to criminal and civil law. I was perplexed at first. She was talking about the bare necessities of criminal and civil cases to people working in a prison who dealt with the very people these laws were implemented upon. Shouldn’t they already know these? Nonetheless, I was touched by the effort and attention they paid Atty. Alvarez all throughout her lecture.
We were also offered snacks of softdrinks and bread which we found out were baked by the prisoners themselves. It was warm and delicious, and Atty. even asked for take-out which they actually seemed excited to give!
We hitched a ride with a jail jeep, the one we were told they use to transport prisoners for hearings or medical appointments. We were even locked in and had two guards sitting outside! It was fun and we hope we wouldn’t be wearing orange jumpsuits the next time we ride one again.
After another bumpy ride came pizzaaaaa. Atty. Alvarez treated us to Shakey’s and we were only too happy (and hungry) to indulge. We met other co-intern Ate’s who are law students already. We discussed what we would be doing for the next week since Atty. would be off to Bohol for a couple of days.
Monday, June 19, 2017
We were assigned to conduct a court monitoring in the Regional Trial Court (RTC). I’ve never been to a courtroom before so I didn’t know what to expect. I woke up REALLY early (ohmigosh the sacrifice!) so we’d get there well before 8:30 (regular starting time of hearings). We were sitting stiff, notebooks and monitoring checklist in hands observing the courtroom. We double checked our phones, making sure it was on silent mode as we’d have to pay Php 500 if it rings in the middle of the hearing. 2 hours later and still no judge in sight. Later, Ate Eden (our co-intern and 4th yr Law student from USC) told us judges are too busy to be on time, and even if they do, if they say they’re not late then they’re not. Maybe I should aspire to be a judge some time.
We sat in the front row just behind one side of the counsels because the back pews were for the detainees. The counsels and fiscal were all chatty around us, and even asked us if we only studied political science because we sucked at math. It was funny because it was extremely on-point but I wondered if they related to it too. Hmm.
There were 15 cases assigned to the court for the day. Almost a quarter of that was for arraignment only. I was disappointed as I was expecting some shot-fire argument between two counsels, the one we see in TV or we read about in John Grisham novels but hey, this is the real world and all I saw was just piles upon piles of papers and half-eaten crackers and coffee and grumpy clerks and chatty lawyers and bored and sleepy judges. I was sad but it felt real. If I were to pursue law, this would be my world. It was eye-opening for me.
We met up with Atty. Alvarez and our co-interns on Wednesday, June 21 to update each other and chat. We just had to finish 6 cases in another branch to complete our assignment for the week. We were back to the RTC the next day. I actually saw my home province’s Vice Mayor Atty. Alfonso Pestolante in the courtroom, he was representing a case. He’s good friends with my father but he left early so I didn’t have a chance to ask for a picture with him.
More than the lawyers though, I was interested in observing the judges. I’ve been in the presence of 3 judges since we’ve started and their characters were quite in contrast. One was soft-spoken (the friendly fiscal sassily complained he couldn’t hear her clearly) and she was creepily smirking all throughout the hearing, the second one I would label kinda rude – he kept on going to the backdoor while a lawyer was performing a cross-examination on a witness, who does that?!, and the last was funny and relaxed but he seemed too involved in the cases, he appeared bias over half the time he spoke.
All things said, I had much fun in our first week. Visiting places and meeting people in my planned field made it real and I realized I really am an adult already, picturing myself going there in non too-casual clothes and with a more mature mindset. Atty. Alvarez promised us more exciting days and I can’t wait! Considering I’m as lazy as they get, I’m literally surprised by my enthusiasm too HAHAHAH
Week 2 can’t come any sooner.