THE demons OF VICENTE ROXAS

How did he get it right? Oh yes, his daughter called him up as she wept to tell him that it’s all over the radio and television. His departure from the bench was the banner story of all the early evening news. The next day, his weeping daughter said, his termination from the Court of Appeals, as sure as the sun explodes in the East, is the newspapers’ front page.

He was stunned. Almost paralyzed. This is what they call nervous breakdown, he thought. His fingers failed him. Simultaneously, he sweated all over despite the almost blast freezing temperature inside his Mercedes Benz. His friends hitching with him always said something best about his car air-conditioning as something nothing like it. Ironically, the last of them who made that unctuous remark was Justice Jose Sabio, the man who went to town.

The traffic along Taft Avenue was as thick as the clouds masking the afternoon sun of September 11, 2008. People were on the sidewalk, most were on the waiting sheds, some along covered parkways of malls and office buildings in United Nations. This is Ermita, his little world since four years ago. The Philamlife building in the corner of Orosa and UN reminded him of the structures in the busy National Avenue of San Diego, his favourite city in Southern California. It was the season of heavy rains. While his car was on a standstill, all he could figure out was the surreal tapestries of multicoloured faces as if gawking at him. “There is Justice Roxas! Crucify him!” Startled, his instructions to his driver were almost inaudible. But almost always since June this year his loyal chauffer was overly sympathetic by repeating what he thought were the biddings of his boss. If he was unresponsive, then he got them all right.

They went straight to UN Avenue towards the direction of Roxas Blvd., went past Orosa, then turned left to Nakpil and again turned left to Arkansas St. He looked at the blight of the block contrasting the majesty of the Court of Appeals Building looming from Arkansas St. This might be the last day he’d see the man in wife-beater contentedly sitting in the corner of UN and Nakpil. How long has he seen that man whose satisfaction was all written on his face? Now he felt an unimaginable envy towards the contented man in that street corner. He had his own satisfaction. His extended decisions gave him some lift that looked like astral projections or fireworks in the midnight sky. Maybe that’s how the masters felt after a magnum opus is done. The levity, the high, the adrenaline, his midnight toss and turns, his heart’s audible thumps.

How does one create his soul? Fundamentally, he thinks a man has no soul. He caught his grandfather muttering that life after death is one tall tale. Is it faith in some cosmic force that soul is formed? He has heard the admonition from the good book, “many are called, but few are chosen.” What exactly did that mean? Now he has some ideas. It is when you get those demons out from your head. That’s how you get your soul. Or by clutching at the last straws of immortality? Work, work, get a canvass for your work and leave.

He got hold of his cellphone. He pressed on its phonebook. Where is that name Justice Sabio?, he thought. There were almost sixty names with “Justices” next to their names. Early on, he gathered all the numbers of his colleagues four years ago when he got his appointment. Of course he has Supreme Court connections. He is a Quisumbing, don’t they ever forget that. In this country, genealogy matters. The High Court justices regard him as future peer. His Malacanang pipeline is awesome. His contemporaries in the appellate court believe that in no time at all he shall sit in Padre Faura looking down at them from some Mt. Olympus. Finally the name Justice Sabio appeared. He pressed the “option” mode and scrolled down looking for the “delete” command. The “delete” command appeared with a question mark.

He pressed it with all his might. Finally, in two months he felt his first satisfaction.

If life could only be as simple as that. But there is no button that can simply rearrange his life. Can he delete what seemed to be uncut unbelievable events in the last eight weeks that crescendoed to his dismissal? Now his name belongs to the Rogues Gallery that include Jalosjos, Ecleo, Sanchez, Webb, Rolito Go, and a host of others. He is now the Justice who got the boot for greed.

How dare the Supreme Court short circuit a process in exchange for national catharsis? Have they forgotten that he is their peer? He should have been treated deferentially. He is no ordinary mortal. A Justice he is, or have they simply forgotten. His curriculum vitae all the more exalt him above his mediocre colleagues whose appointments were on the strength of anything but skill. Not only that. He has what it takes to be a hotshot Filipino consigliore that mesmerizes the legal academia short of epic proportion: a bar topnotcher. As a bar placer, his colleagues in the bench look at him with awe. His fraternity from the State University regard him as a living legend. That makes him at par with the name partners of the Firm, the gods of Sigma Rho. In this poor country, landing in the annual bar examinations’ top ten is enough to establish a name for oneself. Look at Ferdinand Marcos. Marcos’ career pivoted on the legend of his topping the bar while being in prison for murder. People thought he walked free for being a legal genius. He hopes, just like the legions of bar topnotchers, that Filipinos won’t outgrow this inane folklore.

Right after his Ateneo and University of the Philippines training, he has the enviable academic record from no less than Georgetown University Law Center in Washington D.C., USA for his Master of Law degree (LLM) and special studies in Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government. While still wet in the ears, he learned the texture of the law while perched on the lap of his idol, the late nationalist Jose Wright Diokno. Pepe Diokno taught him that even in old age idealism could still rage. And righteousness. The old man drilled on him that equity is the soul of the law. As Commissioner of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines’ Commission on Bar Discipline for five years, his recommendations were heavy on cleansing the bar of misfits and the depraved. His ethical sense is beyond compromise. For a time, he was a knight in shining armor mouthing Ka Pepe’s egalitarian take on this country’s ills when the latter famously wrote, “jobs and justice, food and freedom.” Justice, that’s where he fits most, he swore.

His output as a jurist was outstanding and his writing skill is legend. He wrote unorthodox decisions that only need confirmation by the High Court. The late Justice Ricardo Galvez, his colleague in the appellate court who was plucked by Erap as the latter’s Solicitor General, was heard saying, “Writing is one big talent. It’s like the gift of carrying a tune. Either you have or you don’t have it!” But he is thankful of his long stint in the bench. It honed his writing wizardry. As a trial court judge, from the trial briefs alone no matter how excellent they were prepared, he can smell the shyster a mile away. A short stint in the Securities and Exchange Commission made the Corporation and Securities Laws like the back of his hand. With those credentials, his CA equals seek his opinion on matters of intra-inter-corporate conflicts and stocks or securities controversies.

An administrative case brought against him by an Ilusorio scion was trashed by the Supreme Court for being frivolous. Walking down towards his car one day, an elderly colleague accosted him. “Tell me whose case is that you’re clutching?” pointing at the manila envelop clipped by his arm. “The Ilusorio family feud,” he replied. “Ah, Marcos money!” the old man exclaimed and went on in a monologue. He said in this country you can attain immortality by simply being a big thief. “Almost twenty years after his death, Marcos is still a piece of talk. The Courts are all busied up dismantling the blocks and barriers the crook assembled around his trove’s fortification. In the next fifty years, the new judges would look kindly at the bandit now romanced by sheer fatigue. Marcos money…..not far from the fabled Yamashita treasure,” and the old jurist ambled on.

The Supreme Court has dossiers of appellate justices where they are graded according to intelligence and integrity. The list is most useful in the reviewing of cases brought before the High Court on appeal. There are CA justices whose reputations precede them. A decision penned by a notorious jurist is subjected to microscopic scrutiny and gets reversed pockmarked with acrimonious adjectives. On the other hand, that of a reputable justice’s easily earns the High Court’s affirmance. His appealed decisions, especially his findings of facts and conclusions of law, get the nod of the Supreme Court in no time at all.

All what he did was to pen on what he thought was an outstanding decision. It was a no-brainer, actually. His stint in the SEC, albeit short, gave him the essential skill in the application of corporation law and jurisprudence. He just needed a whole afternoon writing his ponencia. The gods of the Firm were on the line for consultation.

This is where the Firm is known for. Why bother cultivating upstarts to compile legal briefs and materials in bolstering the gates of Meralco? An expert in the field is all it needs for peace of mind, and a Justice at that.

The venerable Vicente Roxas forgot that he is a member of the appellate court. Where he was enmeshed of is simply a juvenile contest between buccaneers and highwaymen. The loot is fairgame. Meralco wanted permanence on its turf. On the assets of Meralco one finds embossed the Lopez family name. We are indeed a sentimental lot, and this family is not about to give up.

Meralco is a money machine. One ingenious accounting entry alone can build you a Makati landmark, the Rockwell. There is no difference between a gambling lord and the Meralco monarchy. A gambling lord has his territorial franchise where he rakes in millions of pesos a day. A franchise in CALABARZON is an equivalent money machine. We are always in search of the proverbial cornucopia, a Meralco or a lucrative territory as retirement fallback. A gambling lord’s good fortune is looked upon with green eyes by another pretender to the franchise waiting for one opportune time. The history of illegal gambling in this country for the last 100 years is replete with folklores of dislodging one gambling lord with another.

That is the tragedy of a President. He is reduced into another pretender who covets Meralco. A President who has gone thru the wringer of elections in this part of the world believes that a money machine is fair target. Erap brainstormed with Atong Ang to perfect the Bingo Two Balls to obliterate jueteng and hold on to it for the rest of their lives. But Chavit went to town.

There are many ways of gobbling Meralco up. One is by nationalization, next is by declaring a national emergency or martial law, and lastly, by letting loose the trust fund of a government insurance firm. Marcos went on the strong arm method and failed. Declaring martial law, Marcos hemmed and hewed, and by some artifice grabbed Meralco by way of dacion en pago. Cory Aquino, on matters of sentiment voided Marcos decrees viewed as perturbacion de mero hecho and not perturbacion de derecho, and delivered back the Meralco assets to the Lopezes by way of pacto de retro. GSIS, with over a billion dollars in excess cash, the Palace tenant experimented with the last option. She enjoys her growing reputation as a genius of managing her stay in office for the rest of her term. Now, as a cerebral tinkerer, she trains her attack dogs to snatch the money machine that is Meralco. With thirty percent shareholdings floating in public, she can achieve where Marcos failed with less violence. Three steps ahead is the sympathetic ear of the SEC. Faced with this prospect, the Lopezes opened their vaults. And with a door ajar, the Firm got a glimpse of the logistics enough to win a global war! Malacanang failed to reckon the twist and turn in the Court of Appeals. From the bluebook of the Firm out came the name of Vicente Roxas, the boy genius of the day.

That’s how he looked at the intramurals between Meralco and GSIS. There is no honor in it. This is a war between two predators awashed with bullions ready to burn in the plains of Kilimanjaro.

He and the Firm are just there to get the vantage point in the food chain.

He just wrote what he thought was an outstanding Decision.

His demons still possessed him.

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