Meeting Estelito Mendoza

THE BIG GUN

Nearing the end of my 3rd year in law school, I applied for an internship at the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG).

Looking back, I do not know what my motivation was for signing up an internship. It was not, after all, required of us. In fact, at UP Law, what was required was the on-the-job internship at our own Office of Legal Aid (OLA) which was for two semesters usually taken during the senior year. So, it wasn’t like I had to take the OSG internship to meet some requirement.

Perhaps it was the boredom that drove me. Law school can really be boring contrary to the Paper Chase storyline or to any TV show out there on law school. By 3rd year, the wide-eyed amazement in my eyes have been replaced with the routinary look on law books to be read and cases to be digested. Just how much of these exactly do we have to go through?

So here I was, braving the outside world wanting to test my mettle. For sure, I already studied 3 years of law school. I should be able to do some legal stuff already.

(Notice to the public: Law students tend not to be taught basic contract skills and pleadings even on their 3rd year. This is the part that gets me with the current legal education curriculum.)

After sending my resume via email, I was shortlisted for an interview. There were two parts to the process. The first step was a group interview by solicitors (basically underlings). The second was before then Assistant Solicitor General (ASG) Karl Miranda, who as I recall piloted or pushed for the OSG internship to atttact talented and promising young lawyers to the biggest law firm in the country.

What I recall of the interview was that I waited beside a beautiful applicant who I would later on learn was a schoolmate (so yes, I’m a bit nerdy on this aspect not knowing much about people in law school). As for the interview, the underlings asked about the Molina doctrine which was relatively new at that time and some other cases. The interview was a bit rowdy as the panelists wanted to be taken seriously but they could not help themselves be nice and funny.

It was the interview with then Justice Miranda that got my attention. He took an interest in my having been elected as a Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) in our province. Surely enough, he asked my opinion on the controversy about the SK being a training ground for dirty old politics or for soon to be traditional politicians (trapos in its derogatory terminology). While I said that this may be so in some cases, and I having witnessed a few during my time, I still believed in the importance of involving the youth in local politics early on.

It appeared that my application and interview went well having learned that I was accepted to the internship with the rank of No. 2 out of all those who were accepted from various law schools, some as far as Baguio City and Cebu City. It wasn’t like I knew that the applicants were being ranked. (What is it with the fascination of ranking in law school? In our undergrad, we could care less if you are on top 10 or you have latin honors. Of course, we were philosophy majors and thus thought of as having our own world, with a few their own reality.)

The No. 1 was a sophomore (or an incoming junior) who I would later on keep teasing to add me on Facebook. While initially saying that she only accepted invitations from true friends, she eventually relented a few months after and accepted my request. To which, I kept teasing her that I was now an officially recognized friend using her definition.

So where does Estelito Mendoza come into the picture?

The OSG internship lasted for a month only. I was assigned under ASG Sarah Fernandez, who to this day I keep remembering her overwhelming generosity and hospitality. We were the only division (of 20 or so) who had free luch everyday! She then took all her staff and interns to lunch at the Manila Peninsula (which blew my mind when I learned afterwards how much the bill per head given there were about 15 or so of us). Towards the end of the internship, she invited us to their province in Dagupan for their bangus festival where I saw and tasted for the very first time world-class bangus!

Estelito Mendoza, yes, on the topic.

In the middle of the internship, I was surprised to have been called to the office of ASG Miranda who headed a different division and on a different floor. When I got there, another intern was waiting with Justice Miranda. It appeared that they were waiting for me.

As soon as I arrived, they both stood and told me to follow. I was clueless and had to ask my co-intern what was happening. It was when she explained that we were going to the office of Estilito Mendoza, which was nearby. While walking through a park in Makati, Justice Miranda filled us in and told us that we were going there to primarily invite him as a speaker to our batch.

Reaching the office, we were ushered to a conference room. Estelito Mendoza came in a few minutes after us.

He came in with an executive presence felt by everyone. He was in control. As Justice Miranda made the introductions and opened up on why we were there, I could not not help observing Estilito Mendoza and the photos in the room. His Harvard Law class picture stood out as I tried to look for him in the group.

Then, I nearly lost my balance when I tried to recline not knowing that the back seat goes long back. Suffice it to say, I ended up causing a ruckus that interrupted their conversation. What I could only do was give a faint smile.

A few days after the visit, Estelito Mendoza went to the OSG to give a speech. He walked in like a celebrity with almost all ASGs, solicitors, staff, and interns in attendance. The venue was packed with some waiting outside listening to his words of wisdom.

What I would remember from all this was the chair that got me in trouble. Next what I’d hear of Estelito Mendoza was that he would represent clients in high-profile cases as the big gun.