Remembering Justice Cuevas

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By Kelvin Lee

Question of Law

Thursday, February 13, 2014

I RECENTLY attended a hearing in the Senate as part of a group of lawyers accompanying Mayor Duterte's entourage/supporters (i.e. the Davao City Water District Chairman and Directors, among others).

It was an interesting experience being back in the Senate. It brought back many memories. There was a time in my life when I was there nearly every day as part of the Defense Panel's group of assisting lawyers in Chief Justice Renato Corona's Impeachment Trial in 2012. During the impeachment trial, I answered to several prominent lawyers, chief among them was Justice Serafin Cuevas.

Justice Cuevas died last week at the ripe old age of 85. He was a former Justice of the Supreme Court (during the Marcos era), a former Secretary of Justice (during President Estrada's time) and one of the leading lawyers of all time in this country.


As anyone who watched the Impeachment trial Of Chief Justice could attest, he was witty, smart, lightning quick when it came to his quips and questions, and could butt heads with even Senators in defense of his client.

Plus, one could not fault his stamina on the floor during oral arguments or cross examination. He was the type of lawyer who could stand - despite being in his 80s - for hours on end to question a witness or argue a point. I daresay not many lawyers, even young ones, could do that.

It was a rare privilege to have worked with such a man. I wish I could say I learned a lot from him, but unfortunately, I directly worked with him in the Impeachment Trial for only a few weeks. Much of my time there was spent doing research, preparing witnesses and drafting questions and pleadings for the other lawyers (i.e. Attys. Dennis Manalo, Atty. Noel Lazaro, and Atty. Roy) thus my facetime with Justice Cuevas was fairly limited.

However, I do recall my first day at the Impeachment trial when I was introduced to Justice Cuevas.

When Attys. Dennis Manalo and Noel Lazaro introduced me to Justice, he was warm and very accommodating. And most of all, very generous. He asked me if I had any problem getting into the Senate Hall, and I candidly told him the guards wouldn't let me in until one of the senior lawyers (Atty. Lazaro I believe) escorted me in.

Security was very tight back then in the Senate - in order to control the flow of people and reporters - and only those with Security Passes which said Defense or Prosecution could easily get into the Senate Hall. Justice Cuevas said he understood the problem, and took off his security pass, and then gave it to me, "to ensure that I could get in and out easily." I was touched, but then I asked him wouldn't he have problems getting into the Senate Hall without a pass? One of the Defense lawyers beside him laughed, and said that, "with Justice Cuevas? His face value is enough to get him in. The Impeachment couldn't continue without Justice."

And so I still have the Senate "Defense" security pass here in my office. I look at it every day when I come in for work. It is a reminder of a roller-coaster case that I actively helped in, and of how sometimes cases are decided by politics rather than evidence. But most of all, the security pass is a reminder of a great man, and a brilliant lawyer. We may never see his like again.


The opinions expressed herein are solely of Atty. Lee. This column does not constitute legal advice nor does it create a lawyer-client relationship with any party. You can reach Kelvin at

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on February 13, 2014.


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