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Media-friendly court: No more quiet days

/ 02:13 AM December 11, 2011

Poorly paid government workers are not exactly known for being the soul of graciousness, which is why some consider the courteousness of the staff at the Pasay Regional Trial Court Branch 112 an exception to the rule.

“It is a public service after all, and what the court wants is to achieve transparency,” said Clerk of Court Joel Pelicano, explaining how he manages to be always nice to media members who have been filing in and out of the court’s office since the electoral sabotage case against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was raffled off to the branch in November.

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But perhaps Pelicano has not become as jaded as his counterparts in other state agencies, having joined government only relatively recently, despite being 61 years old.

Plea from a friend

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Pelicano went to work at the court in 2006, in response to a plea for help from “a friend from law school.”

Sources who requested anonymity said this friend was Judge Jesus Mupas, who was appointed as presiding judge of Branch 112 the same year that Pelicano became the clerk of court.

Both men finished their law degrees at the Manuel L. Quezon University in the 1980s.

Pelicano, who is married with two children and two grandchildren, spent the years after passing the bar as a trial lawyer, until five years ago when he joined the Pasay City court.

Asked if he had any training in dealing with the press, Pelicano said he didn’t.

“Maybe it’s the court’s aim of being transparent to the public and this is public service,” he said, but added that this openness to the public had its limits.

“I can only discuss what happened during the proceedings,” and not about the merits of the case because of the sub judice rule, he said.

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“As long as the merits are not touched, we are always open to the public,” he said.

He consents to answer questions about what transpired inside the courtroom as television reporters are not allowed to bring their cameras inside during proceedings. He can also be persuaded to discuss the implications and repercussions of the issues surrounding the case.

It’s not surprising that Pelicano is able to oblige the media in this way as he can always be observed listening intently to the proceedings.

But he also has the humility to admit to his limitations, like the time when he could not say what had transpired at a hearing, asking the reporters instead what they had witnessed at the court session.

“I will have to read the transcripts first because I wasn’t able to hear them well. Their voices were a bit soft,” Pelicano explained.

The day things changed

According to the Pasay court’s employees, their working lives and how the court office functioned changed forever on Nov. 18, the day the case against the former President and Pampanga congresswoman was raffled off to Branch 112.

The work dynamic in their otherwise humdrum existence has been shaken by the Arroyo case, admitted some employees.

True enough, things have indeed changed for the court’s employees. Once, before the Arroyo case descended on them, when the Inquirer dropped in on their office, some court workers could be heard chatting about the previous night’s cold weather and how it was so conducive to sleep. Others were massaging their faces and applying lotion on their hands before settling down to their daily tasks.

“We miss our quiet ways,” said one female employee with a grin.

These days, people who knew they worked for the court would badger them about developments in the case, “as if the reports in the media were not enough,” the employees said.

The friendliest branch

Despite the pressures that have come with the Arroyo case, the court has a reputation for being the “friendliest branch.”

According to another employee, the staff has been receiving compliments from people who go to the Pasay City courts to follow up on cases.

“Some ask us how come employees from other branches barely smile when they inquire there or ask for directions,” the employee said. “I guess that’s just the way we are,” she said.

Last Wednesday, by some twist of fate, the electoral sabotage case against former Commission on Elections chair Benjamin Abalos Sr. also fell into Mupas’ lap during the raffle.

It remains to be seen whether the pressure of handling high-profile cases will take the shine off the jolly court staff of Branch 112.

First posted 12:29 am | Sunday, December 11th, 2011

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TAGS: Clerk of Court Joel Pelicano, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Judge Jesus Mupas, Pasay Regional Trial Court Branch 112
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