‘Mistakes’ of young lawyer overshadow historic marriage equality hearing

MANILA, Philippines – Only 31 years old and with scarce background in litigation, Jesus Falcis III’s inexperience got the better of him on Tuesday, June 19, when he defended before the Supreme Court his petition seeking to legalize same-sex marriage.

The oral arguments on Tuesday were historic, but the excitement died down after almost all justices who interpellated Falcis pointed out procedural flaws. When it was his turn, Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza said he is “inclined to dismiss the case” because it violated the hierarchy of courts.

“I will be very candid to you as a graduate of the same school, that I am more inclined to dismiss your case,” Jardeleza said by the end of his interpellation that at moments turned into pop quizzes, and the justice sounding almost like a law professor scolding his student.

Falcis graduated from the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law in 2014, passed the Bar in May 2015, and filed the petition two months after.

Showing deference to his seniors, Falcis said: “I concede to the wisdom of the Honorable Justice that petitioner alone, even as a counsel in his career, probably made mistakes during the handling of the petition, but we will answer that in the memorandum. The petitioner is of the belief that there are Supreme Court decisions that would help him out otherwise. Disregarding the mistakes of the petitioner, there are actual LGBT couples in this case who will be harmed if their fundamental rights will not be recognized.”

Hierarchy of courts

Jardeleza, as well as Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin, said that a case for same-sex marriage should be threshed out in the lower courts first because it deals with factual issues. The Supreme Court is not a trier of facts.

Falcis’ legal standing in filing a petition was also scrutinized. He is a single gay man who has not actually been denied the right to marry yet, and the subsequent civil rights that come with marriage.

Back in 2015, then solicitor general Florin Hilbay already pointed out this flaw. What Falcis did was bring in intervenors – a gay couple and one-half of a lesbian couple who had been married in religious ceremonies but who were denied a marriage license.

Still, as petitioner, justices required that Falcis be of the same strong legal standing.

“You made yourself the lead plaintiff. You can wait, you have been waiting, you don’t want to commit to a partner because you want to wait for this Court, so I’m saying, why don’t you wait a while for Congress and the Constitutional Commission to settle this matter,” Jardeleza said.

Jardeleza pointed out that House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez is the main sponsor of a same-sex civil union bill at the House of Representatives. “That is clout as clout can be,” Jardeleza said.

Falcis made an impassioned plea: “Even though I am young, and it seems that I can wait, but the right to marry creates a lot of ripple effect for people like me who are of a young age, and especially those who are younger, that without the right to marry legally recognized for LGBT people, what message does it send to young people, who experience certain problems in their lives, in worst case scenarios, depression, which can lead them to commit certain acts which we do not want to happen?”

Earlier in the oral arguments, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen warned Falcis of risks in filing the petition at this time when institutions, according to the Justice, may not be ready yet.

Darwin Angeles, also a young lawyer at 31 years old who helped Falcis present the arguments, told Rappler afterwards: “It may be a setback, but no matter what happens today, or what happens to this case, it will be on some level, a victory for the movement.”

Falcis added: “The nearest effect of it would be that there are Filipinos now who can hear that there are groups, straight or LGBT, who say that being gay is okay, and that is a message that not a lot of people heard in the past.” – Rappler.com 

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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