Meet pistol-packing Judge Jimmy
By Romeo Ranoco
Traditionally, Filipinos are gun lovers, particularly in the southern Philippines, where almost every household keeps a rifle or a pistol at home. I know someone who said “I can let go of my wife, but I can’t live without my Armalite”. Thus, I got excited when I was asked to do a gun culture picture story, focusing on a pistol-packing judge who helps train fellow magistrates and lawyers at a target range.
When one talks about a pistol-packing judge, one person immediately comes to my mind, a legendary former police officer who traded his blue uniform for a black robe. Jaime “Jimmy” Santiago is a celebrity in his own right. The presiding judge of branch 3 of Manila’s Regional Trial Court, Jimmy was a police officer a quarter of a century ago. He rose to celebrity status when as a commander of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit in the Philippine capital city Manila, he rescued several victims and “neutralized” a total of six gunmen in several separate hostage-taking incidents. His exploits were eventually made into a full-length movie, entitled “SPO4 Santiago, Sharpshooter”.
When I came to see him at his office, I knew I was in the right place. It was quite a normal office, but one wall was decorated with an M-16 Armalite rifle and shotgun. His office is just next to the courtroom where he hears criminal and civil cases. I had the chance to see him in action, sitting on the bench and listening to lawyers from both sides arguing and issuing his orders after hearing the cases. He agreed to talk to me for a few minutes before clearing his desk of cases and our chat touched on a subject close to his heart. At one point, he mentioned an incident at a court house on central Cebu island, where a Canadian national went on a shooting spree, killing two and wounding a prosecutor. At this point, he emphasized the need to arm judges and lawyers in the country so they can protect themselves from threats coming from some disgruntled litigants who couldn’t accept losing a case.
With just minutes to spare, he gathered his robe and prepared to conduct a court hearing. I also equipped myself and went around shooting pictures of him inside the courtroom. I was struck by what I saw in his half-opened drawer as he sat on the bench, there was a loaded .45 caliber pistol in it and the judge appeared ready to shoot back if attacked.
I got to know him even better as I accompanied him the next day to a shooting range where he practiced with his fellow judges and lawyers. He taught them how to handle their pistols properly and shoot effectively.
After a couple of rounds, it was clear Jimmy hadn’t lost his touch. He remains a sharpshooter. There was even one target which he spotted only using the reflection on his watch. When we got the target paper, it was all Alpha.
I remember a local journalist who covered Judge Santiago saying when Jimmy was still a SWAT member every time there was a hostage drama, Jimmy was always on site to be the main negotiator. With his sharp shooter reputation, to the hostage taker it was either surrender peacefully or pray he’d miss, which was very unlikely.
As the day ended, I walked with him to his car. Before driving away he never forgets to put his .45 caliber pistol beside him – a man who regards safety as a priority.