AT THE first sound of gunfire, Mac instantaneously hugged the ground, crawled for cover and, fighting to get his breathing even, assessed how best to get out alive.

Death was not an option.

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Then, after determining that fighting was his best, if not his only, chance he drew his Smith and Wesson model 13, gritted his teeth, squinted his eyes and started pumping .357 slugs.

The smoke clears, Mac is still up and the bad guy is down with six hits squarely in the torso.

The encounter, of course, is a simulated one. And Mac, short for Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Macaundas Hadjirasul, hopes it will never turn real. He will prepare for it, yes. But he prays that the day will never come.

Judge Hadjirasul, who I’ve known since his lawyer days as a graft investigator, is one of 40 RTC judges who took part in a three-day personal security seminar organized by the Supreme Court last week.

The training, which was co-sponsored by the Philippine Judicial Academy (Philja) and which brought an expert from Europe, culminated in a day at the Firing Range.

There, under the guidance of NBI personnel, the judges learned how to operate and fire handguns of various models and calibers–from modern 9mm pistols, to the iconic nineteen-eleven, and up to the ubiquitous six-shot revolver.

FIRING LINE. Handguns are nothing new to some of the magistrates. Judge Hadjirasul himself is a pistol owner and is a card-carrying member of Front Sight Gun Club, one of the older shooting associations here in Cebu.

Another judge who was present in the training, Eric Menchavez, is an old hand in leather-slapping.

In fact, during their day at the range, Menchavez, who hasn’t spent as much time as he used to in the shooting range ever since he joined the bench, still bested all others in the firing line.

From 10 yards, he dumped all his rounds into a shot group no bigger than my fist, impressing even newly-appointed NBI 7 Regional Director Edward Villarta, who is himself a competitive shooter and a veteran of the World Shoot in Bali, Indonesia.

But Menchavez too dreads the day he’d have to use the firearm he has trained for years with.

“Nobody is ever prepared for that,” he said. It is a sentiment shared by all judges I spoke to during the activity. And it is a sentiment that will be shared by anybody who has had to take a life in defense of himself or herself.

MINDSET. But having judges take three days off their courtrooms to study personal protection and spend an entire day at the range familiarizing themselves with weapons is a definite step at the right direction.

“We all know that there just aren’t enough resources for the government to protect us.

There aren’t enough police officers to assign as security. We have to take the responsibility for our own protection as citizens,” one judge said.

It isn’t enough, of course. Nobody becomes a gunfighter in three days plus one visit to the range. Personal protection is a lifestyle and gun-handling is just a security measure.

Still, personal protection begins with the way a person thinks. And, because it organized a seminar on the subject, it is clear that the Supreme Court wants its judges to begin thinking in that direction.

Judges, according to one lucky enough to make it into his retirement, is “fast becoming a dying breed.”

“We are now second to journalists,” said former judge Fortunato de Gracia, who now lectures for Philja and who was present during the three-day seminar.

He shared a very clear-cut understanding of the situation. For every case assigned to a judge, there are at least two people watching his every move. One is bound to be angry after every ruling.

Isn’t the same true with journalists? Not everyone is bound to be happy with every news report that sees print, or gets broadcast, or gets aired on television, regardless of how ethically we handle our reportage or how morally upright we try to be as persons.

What are we doing about it? That will have to be for another column. Suffice to say we aren’t all being pragmatic.