Modelled after the Philippine government, the University Student Government (USG) is divided into three branches: the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary. The third of the bunch, a rather lesser-known division among the student body, works quietly on University-level legal cases spanning from impeachment trials to election-related matters, robust from any smear of bias and partisanship.
Last March 27, then-Magistrate Jericho Quiro won as the new Chief Magistrate in a 31-30 split vote. Now officially holding the top seat in the court, he tells The LaSallian what the future of the Judiciary Department will look like and how his past experiences molded his vision for the branch.
In the USG’s Joint Session for the Chief Magistrate elections, you mentioned that you plan to focus on connection, relationship building, and internal development. Having the position now, how do you plan on effectively achieving this?
One of the things that I learned is that when you embark on a project or series of projects, you have to plan meticulously. Half of the success of a project depends on planning. I’m already halfway there because when I introduced those proposals [in the] joint session, there [was] already a structure I [had] in mind.
Second is consensus-building. I will propose my plans to the Judicial Board who I intend to convince of the value and importance of my plan of action. Consensus-building does not only mean that the Judicial Board knows the plan, but they also understand, accept…and actively support and participate in them…I want the Board’s honest ideas, thoughts, suggestions, or input because that way, we can improve on my proposals.
The third is partnership. Some of our plans are quite ambitious. We need the cooperation and partnership of not just other USG units, but also the other sectors of the University. I aim to build a broad coalition in order to achieve our goals and maximize our resources and impact. Kasi in my course (Development Studies), one of the things they also teach is that when you want to do something, it’s always better to do it with friends, and I think many of them would be willing to join us in our plans.
How do you think your past experience in leadership roles—such as being President of the Development Initiative (DevInt)—and your journey in the Judiciary shaped you for this position?
I actually entered them (DevInt and Judiciary) at around the same time…when I was a frosh. I was a CO (counsel officer) trainee, and I became OIC (Officer in Charge) President of DevInt during AY (academic year) 2018-2019. They both had similar problems when I first arrived: inactivity and lack of members.
When I became President of DevInt, there were only two officers: myself and my friend. It was in shambles…We were facing dissolution. But one year later, we jumped from the 42nd to the 36th position (in the Council of Student Organization rankings)…and there was a 17 percent increase in membership after one year.
It’s not the best performance, but it was considerable and significant enough to secure our organization’s position and ensure that the threat of dissolution would never threaten DevInt again.
So, in a way, my experience in handling people, managing people, dealing with administrative affairs, both internally within the organization and with the administrative body, and my style of leadership was actually formed during that time.
A large part of my legal perspective comes from [the Judiciary], especially during my first year. It was the time wherein my mind…was easy to mold. My experience [comes from] not only my training but [also] in handling cases, [which] provided me valuable insight in [dealing] with litigants [and] understanding the law.
When I handled my [first] case, [it] actually brought some great lessons to me, especially [on] how to deal with parties, with both plaintiffs and defendants…as well as how to conduct myself in the courtroom, how you uphold integrity, independence, and dignity of the court and as a magistrate.
What initially drew you into joining the Judiciary branch? Have you always considered the possibility of becoming Chief Magistrate?
At first, I never thought of joining an organization because during that time I was quite shy…I didn’t have any of the connections within DLSU that many people had. So no one really pushed me to join.
However, during ARW (Annual Recruitment Week) and SGAR (Student Government Annual Recruitment), I was tempted to join a lot of [organizations], admittedly even some political parties. But my shyness overcame me.
Then, I stumbled upon this small booth. It was the Judiciary. And, compared to the others, their booth was barren. For some reason, it piqued my interest.
As for considering becoming the chief, [at] first, of course not. I never wanted to join an [organization] in the first place. Tsaka, of course, because I never thought of [being in] one, I never thought I could actually get here. In fact, becoming a magistrate is not something I really planned. I only did it because, at the time, there was a severe lack of magistrates.
Throughout my training, I thought it would be best if I just remained a counselor, a counsel officer because there, I could directly help people—complainants or plaintiffs. But as time passed by, my mentors encouraged me and supported me…So I did, which is why I became a magistrate. That’s when I realized that I could actually do more in this position. I could actually have a greater influence on the courtroom. And that’s why I also strived to become chief because I believed I could do great things.
How do you define the ideal Judiciary Department? How do you envision the department to be by the time your term ends?
My ideal—or at least the Judiciary that I want to leave [behind]—is a Judiciary wherein the student body trusts us…[one that] not only upholds nonpartisanship, independence, and integrity, but also a Judiciary that all students are comfortable with. A Judiciary [that is] always ready to hear the pleas and the concerns of the students because, in essence, that’s our mandate as the impartial third branch of the USG, created as a check and balance with other branches. It’s our job that the other branches don’t exceed their jurisdiction. And, the people who would—or should—inform us of that is, of course, the students…And for that, we need to increase our manpower and improve our delivery of services. When we have more officers…when we develop our institutional processes and procedures, we can deliver faster results.
In essence, my ideal Judiciary is one [that] can stand on its own so that the students can actually trust us—an impartial independent branch of integrity that no matter what happens can continue serving DLSU. So, the Judiciary that I want to leave is one wherein our students can actually rely on because currently, the way I see it is that the setting we have in the USG mirrors that of the Philippines system. And our Philippine system fails a lot of people.
When I was a Deputy Director for Counsel Officers, our Facebook page received a message from someone who wants us to release their relative from jail. I was shocked and horrified. We told them that we weren’t the Judiciary they were looking for then referred them to [proper] organizations [that] would help them… Pero that incident left an impression on me. It’s a lesson—and of course, my other personal experiences: In the real world, justice is not always attained by everyone. I don’t like that. As a Lasallian, as a Filipino, I abhor it. That’s why I want to start here in our own University’s student government.
Last AY 2018-2019, the Judiciary branch was left with no magistrates after the USG’s Executive Committee failed to convene and interview candidates. One of the Judiciary members at the time believed it was partly because of a strained relationship between other branches and the Judiciary after the impeachment case of former Arts College Government Student Services Chair Angeli Andan. How do you address the possibility of having these strained relationships with members of the USG involved in the cases you adjudicate?
I will neither confirm nor deny that that case was the cause. However, with regards to the relationships in cases, as a matter of professionalism, magistrates are bound to only act on things or matters which are brought before us in the courtroom, which means that I will only act on what is presented to me or us during hearings or trials, yung mga sina-submit na pleadings ng mga counsels, mga evidence that they present to us, the arguments that they utter during trials or oral arguments.
So number one, of course, professionalism. I trust our student leaders to be of sound mind. I think our student leaders now would not think or act based on old misconceptions, or misunderstandings. Besides, why would student leaders take that against us when [that] is actually an official exercise of our mandate and function? In fact, I think cases like those show the effective and efficient functioning of our Judiciary, who is always ready to act.
Now, for argument’s sake that does happen, it doesn’t change my outlook or my philosophy. I and the other magistrates will maintain the professionalism that the Judiciary is always proud of. I will decide on cases based on what is presented to us in court. Everyone else can play politics, but I and our Judiciary will do our job, our mandate, or raison d’être, which is to deliver justice, no matter what happens.
Of course, we can always try to avoid those. And I believe that simple honest communication can suffice. Walang hindi maso-solve ang magandang usapan. That’s always been my point of view… because, not only as strong leaders, but as Lasallians, we have been trained in the greatest of Christian values—passion, zeal for service. I believe that our student leaders right now do have that.
(There is nothing proper communication cannot solve.)
You talked about having an environment of objectivity, independence, and professionalism. What kind of methods do you have in place to make sure each member of the Judiciary follows it?
In the [Judiciary’s] Rules of Internal Governance, there is a specific section for law practitioners there. It says that officers of the court, specifically magistrates and counsel officers, are loyal to the law, loyal to the court, loyal to their clients, loyal to the truth.
[Also], Term 3 of last AY, I introduced the Rules and Ethics Committee during the revisions for the Rules of Internal Governance. It [is] an internal administrative body [that] decides on complaints on members of the Judiciary. Kung baga, it’s similar to the Judicial and Bar Council and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines. They could investigate and then they will submit to the magistrates their recommendations. The magistrates would decide whether to accept the recommendations, to deny the recommendations, or to accept the recommendations with some modification.
Talking about the previous term, among the plans of the former chief magistrate, Clifford Martinez, which ones do you expect to continue in your term?
It’s not specifically a plan, but more of a governing philosophy. Clifford is an excellent magistrate. He’s a good friend and a great leader. I would like to continue the way he deals with other student leaders, which is to be receptive, friendly, nice…He listens to your concerns and actively engages in conversations.
He [also] doesn’t micromanage. He allows his officers to handle a project or an activity they want to and it usually becomes a great project. Although I do want to do that now, perhaps something I would like to tweak or add to that is the periodic kamustahan…just to get some updates and to show my concern. That way, as well, I could show that not only do I support them, but I also take great interest in their work. I absolutely support them and would like to see them succeed.
Pero I would like to make it (kamustahan) a little more frequent this time, especially [that] the stress and pressure for many of our students, and our officers, as well, are increasing.
As much as possible, I would like a hands-off [approach], pero I think it’s my duty and I would love to know more about them, about what they’re dealing with about their struggles, so I could understand and empathize with them…because the Judiciary is not all about work. Of course, we also care about each other very deeply. [I want] to make sure that everyone is okay, everyone is safe, everyone is sane.
The work of the Judiciary is not something students usually pay attention to. What is your opinion on the kind of impact that you have? How would you increase awareness of your work?
On the impact that we have, I will be very honest with you. I don’t think I could answer that.
One of the first things they teach in Development Studies is the importance of participation not just by leaders, but by all stakeholders, specifically those who would benefit from a project. This is because they could input ideas, suggestions, or raise concerns, which would normally be unknown or unfamiliar with the leaders. That’s why my plan of action contains many opportunities for students to participate in.
Kasi when we educate our students, when we enlighten our students, we don’t just fill them with information. Actually, we’re filling them with questions as well—questions which would lead them to [a] greater understanding of the subject. I [came to understand] that when someone is interested in something, they will actively seek it even without convincing. When they are more enlightened on what the Judiciary does and what the USG should do, they can actually actively help us.
How do you balance school work and Judiciary work, especially since the latter also requires heavy research?
For one thing, I research my subjects. I analyze what my courses are for the term [and] all the necessary details. Then I schedule it throughout that [term]…in a way that they have [a] little bit of time allowance before the deadline.
I factor in everything. The schedule of classes, the amount of time for research, meetings, planning sessions, time for drafting, finishing, and submissions. My basis for scheduling academic requirements is the deadline. From there I count the days, [going] back one day or two days, dapat matapos ko siya. And then from there, I count…gaano katagal ‘yung drafting…I go in a backward way.
(I have to finish it then.)
Now, from there, I plan my [organization] work. My deadlines and documents are actually planned around my academic responsibilities, because we are first and foremost, students. This is also why one of the excusable justifications for the absence in the USG is academic because whatever happens, you are a student pa rin. Of course, this does not mean that I miss meetings. I barely miss a Judiciary meeting responsibility.
[For] the readings, Development Studies’ reading materials are actually quite long. So nagulat ako nung una kong pagka-pasok, like, my God, all these pages for the many classifications for poverty. What I do is I advance read (sic) it, especially if it’s interesting and something which I think could actually give me more knowledge or enlighten me more. In a way, I try to enjoy the material I have kasi it’s essential that you like what you do. Of course, it’s hard, pero if you like what you do, it’s not gonna be that big of a difficulty. That’s my belief.
(I was shocked at first.)
Looking forward, what challenges do you think that the Judiciary Department will be facing this year and how do you plan on preparing for and addressing them?
The issues I think we will face [are], of course, number one, student participation and engagement, and number two, recruitment of officers.
I say student participation and engagement and not publicity because publicity is merely advertising yourself. It is knowing merely something exists. But participation and engagement mean knowing we exist and actively supporting us. How will we solve it? I think my plans during the Joint Session have detailed that. Of course, the other plans of the Judicial Board will actively contribute to that goal.
With regards to the recruitment of officers, the Judiciary is actually seeing a lot of retirements and resignations. [Some officers] plan to step down because they are nearing graduation. So the problem now is: how will the judiciary put officers of not just similar but of better quality and caliber in their positions?
I think the answer lies in our training and our environment. Our training is one of the hardest in the USG. For you to be a counsel officer [or] magistrate, it takes you one whole year…of lectures, assignments, homework, activities, exercises, and practical demonstrations. The environment we have is conducive to learning and growth. As an organization, we are very wholesome and open…everyone is honest, open, and willing to communicate what they think. So kahit na you are a subordinate officer to a superior officer, if you want to, you could actually convey your thoughts, of course, in a respectful manner. There’s no fear of speaking such truth into power here.
We also have fun. I would have to give credit to the oldies, the old guards, ‘yung mga senior officers namin before in creating and maintaining such a wonderful environment wherein you could do your job and you could still have fun. It’s a professional environment wherein you could do what you need to do and yet still afterward you can go out to drink or to dinner. It’s a professional environment wherein you can accomplish the tasks that you have while everyone still cares for one another. That’s an environment I want to continue and improve further.
With regards to the other issues, I believe that [you] could find the answer to that in my statement to the Joint Session. Pero I stand by what I said, I believe that those plans of actions can develop the Judiciary, the entire USG, and the studentry in turn. I truly believe in that. For what it’s worth, I think my course also played a great part in that thinking, in that philosophy. I truly believe in those things.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.