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The University of Cebu (UC) in Cebu City was blessed with beginner’s luck when it topped the 2011 Moot Court competition held at the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

Virgil Vallecera and Manuel Elijah Sarausad of UC were declared winners over Zara Marie Dy and Kenny Melody Hotingoy of Silliman University in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental.

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It was the first time UC joined the six-year-old annual competition. Vallecera and Sarausad will represent the Philippines in next year’s Red Cross IHL Moot Competition for the Asia-Pacific region in Hong Kong.

Last year, Silliman went to the regionals.

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The two universities from the Visayas faced off in the final round before a mock International Criminal Court (ICC) as opposing sides in a hypothetical case involving international humanitarian law (IHL).

The IHL is a body of laws that seeks to limit the effects of armed conflicts for humanitarian reasons.

The mock ICC court consisted of Associate Justice Lourdes Sereno, lawyers Harry Roque and Lorna Kapunan, Dr. Mario Aguja of Mindanao State University-General Santos, and Fork Yow Leong, legal officer of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Regional Delegation in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The judges grilled the “legal counselors” in the fictional case, asking tough questions and seeking clarification, just as they would do in a real trial.

The law students, showing grace under pressure, eloquently defended their positions, unfazed by interruptions from the judges.

Eloquence not enough

But the judges were looking for more than just eloquence.

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Roque said, at one point, “The judges decided not to declare a winner. They all sounded excellent but they lacked knowledge of IHL.”

Leong advised the future lawyers, “Work on the ability to answer directly to the questions of the judges. Go straight to the point without wasting so much time. Time is of the essence in a moot [court] competition. Make bullet-point answers. Keep them short and simple.”

Though Kapunan agreed with the other judges, she also told the contestants, “It’s an honor for us looking down at you than you looking up at us.”

Aside from winning the moot court competition, UC also received the Best Memorial Award and topped the Role-play Challenge. Vallecera was named Best Mooter in the elimination and final rounds.

“Personally I feel relieved that it’s all over, and I’m happy at the same time. We took the comments of the judges very seriously … We really need to work harder (for the Hong Kong competition) because we’re now representing the Philippines,” said Sarausad, who was second-best mooter.

The 2011 competition was dedicated to Justice Leonor Ines Luciano, who passed away this year.

Beginning next year, the Best Mooter Award will be named after Luciano to honor the work of the former chairperson of the Philippine Red Cross’ (PRC) IHL National Committee.

Aside from University of Cebu and Silliman, six other law schools made it to the semifinals: University of San Carlos, Ateneo de Manila University, University of St. La Salle, St. Louis University, University of the Philippines and University of Batangas.

Other participating schools were Arellano University, Ateneo de Davao, Cagayan State University, Lyceum of the Philippines, San Beda College, San Sebastian College of Law, Southwestern University, University of Cordilleras and University of Santo Tomas.

The moot court competition started in 2005 with only six participating schools. This year 17 schools participated.

Prestigious venue

Adding to the prestige of the competition is its venue. It is the only academic activity held at the en banc session hall of the Supreme Court.

“The growth of this competition shows that more law students appreciate IHL and its real-life applications. As the rivalry becomes fiercer, we have adapted the competition format to give more students a better fighting chance,” said Evecar Cruz-Ferrer, a legal adviser of the ICRC.

He added that this year, eight semifinalists, twice last year’s number, were chosen.

The annual competition for law students in the Philippines is organized by the ICRC, the PRC, Philippine Association of Law Schools and the Supreme Court.

The Ateneo School of Law hosted this year’s event, which is considered as the largest moot court competition in the country. Through the competition, ICRC seeks to promote awareness and improve law students’ knowledge of IHL.

“It is an obligation of the states to make IHL known, teach it, comply with it, ensure that others comply with it,” said Jean-Daniel Tauxe, ICRC head of delegation.

“IHL is of high relevance in the Philippines where non-international armed conflicts are going on with changing intensity but always affecting millions of Filipinos, and not only in Mindanao,” he added.

PRC chairman and former senator Richard Gordon concluded the event with an appeal and an advice to law students. “It’s important to learn about IHL … It’s a flaw in our culture that we think form is better than substance … Learn the substance of the law and live the law.”

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TAGS: debate, Education, moot court competition, Philippines, Schools, University of Cebu
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