February 18, 2005

A people's lawyer and champion

Last Feb. 15, United Nations ad litem judge Romeo T. Capulong, a most outstanding human rights lawyer, one of a rare breed of Filipinos who we can all be proud of, celebrated his 70th birthday. Those who gathered on that auspicious day represented a truly broad spectrum of political forces from left to right; from government officials to leaders of cause-oriented groups and people's organizations; from the well-heeled to the simplest folk.

People who would ordinarily not mix politically, much less socially, got together under one roof simply to honor a Filipino who, according to admirers, epitomizes the "rare combination of brilliance and skill, fearlessness, and an unwavering commitment to serve the poor and downtrodden."

There are many adjectives one can use to describe Judge Capulong, to which there would hardly be a dissenting opinion. He would universally be hailed as abogadong de campanilla, a lawyer's lawyer. He is highly respected by both adversaries and allies in the legal profession as well as in the political arena. He is esteemed and loved by his clients, both paying and, especially, pro bono.

Judge Capulong is a master of the justice system in this country even if his attitude and approach to practicing under such a reactionary body of laws and judicial processes is nothing short of radical, if not heretical. Still, he has one of the highest batting averages in terms of winning cases, including the seemingly unwinnable ones.

A sampling of the outstanding cases he and the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) have handled includes the human rights victims' class suit against the Marcos dictatorship; the controversial case of Filipina migrant worker, Flor Contemplacion; the double murder of Kilusang Mayo Uno and Bayan leader Rolando Olalia and his driver; countless cases of ordinary folks and alleged leaders of the communist movement arrested and charged with subversion, rebellion as well as criminal cases; the defense of Jose Ma. Sison both here and abroad; challenging the constitutionality of the Visiting Forces Agreement; the Estrada impeachment trial; the defense of landless farmers in Hacienda Looc and Hacienda Luisita; the defense of Gen. Raymundo Jarque, the highest ranking military official to defect to the New People's Army; union struggles in PLDT, Meralco and countless banks; suits of consumers opposing oil and power price hikes, privatization of water services and Napocor; urban poor struggles for decent housing and basic services; the defense of Moros rounded up in Maharlika Village on charges of terrorist bombings; the double murders of Eden Marcellana and Eddie Gumanoy, and of Atty. Juvy Magsino and Leima Fortu, all fearless fighters for human rights in Mindoro Oriental; building up ironclad cases in corruption scandals such as the scandalously overpriced Diosdado Macapagal avenue; and the list goes on.

Even when the cases do not prosper in the "Department of Injustice" and in the "Courts of Lawlessness," Judge Capulong makes sure that in the bar of public opinion and in terms of the struggle to uphold human rights, freedom, democracy and social justice, panalo pa rin.

How does he do this? Many bear witness to the fine qualities and sound approach to his work that are keys to his success as a lawyer, in both the conventional sense of winning legal battles, and in the unconventional sense of gaining the moral and political high ground for continuing struggles and eventual victories.

Judge Capulong has developed an unusually keen political sense honed through years of rich practice as a trial lawyer and as an outstanding progressive political leader. He has a vast network of friends, allies, colleagues and supporters domestically and internationally, from which he is able to draw the most useful information and assistance. He is a stickler for a careful and methodical mustering and documentation of the facts and circumstances; of an assiduous study of the applicable laws; and of a very deliberate and all-sided analysis of the political and other relevant factors impinging on each and every case.

But more than these characteristics that one can surely find in any outstanding law practitioner, there is Judge Capulong's abiding faith in the masses, the common folk who constitute a significant proportion of his chosen clientele.

Judge Capulong has taught many a young activist-lawyer as well as grizzled mass leader the importance of listening to and then organizing the aggrieved, the victims of human rights violations, to fight for themselves and help win their own legal and political battles. Time and again he has pointed out that without the people's movement, there can be no people's lawyers; that the people's movement is the secret weapon, if not equalizer, in an existing justice system biased for the exploiter, the oppressor, the unconscionably rich and the ruthlessly powerful.

On top of all these admirable qualities, Judge Capulong is one fearless person who won't back off from a good fight, especially when he sees it as a case of a David versus a Goliath: be it a bully mayor against urban poor settlers; peasant victims of the government's counter-insurgency campaigns; or the politically persecuted, like the founding chair of the Communist Party of the Philippines, Jose Ma. Sison, who has been unjustly tagged as a "terrorist" by the US and other foreign governments.

With regard to Judge Capulong's incomparable contributions to the forging of landmark agreements between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines through a highly contentious and extremely complicated peace process, let us hear it from Mr. Luis Jalandoni:

"Every agreement signed in the peace negotiations, since 1992 has benefited from (Judge Capulong's) sharp legal expertise, unwavering standpoint for the fundamental interests of the Filipino people and outstanding negotiating skills. These negotiating skills are marked by firmness of principle and utmost flexibility in creatively seeking and finding mutually acceptable formulations."

Judge Capulong likes to admonish young lawyers earning their spurs as public interest law practitioners to strive to reach "the highest convergence of professional law practice and service to the people." As his colleagues at the Philippine Peace Center wrote:

"Indeed, those who know him well cannot help but marvel at his uniqueness, at how he has managed to steer his legal career -- nay, his entire life -- to such an extraordinary trajectory, toward this 'highest convergence.'"

On the occasion of his 70th birthday, we in the people's movement salute Romeo T. Capulong, the people's lawyer and champion!

Feb. 18-19, 2005


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home