TRANCHE DE VIE

This year is the 25th anniversary of my lawyering. Not a single day interrupted my continuous trial life as an attorney. While I had my foray in government service for six years, the law did not forbid from practicing  my profession.

For ten years from taking my oath as a lawyer, I worked as an assistant lawyer then progressed to associate lawyer in one old law firm in Makati City specializing in tax and corporate practice. I was nonetheless assigned in the litigation section where I was mentored by two sexagenarians considered experts in their fields, Alberto Villaraza (the late father of the Firm’s Pancho Villaraza) and Pedro Macatangay, Jr. Both of them are now in the great beyond. It was in that law firm when I saw the dying days of martial law and the birth of the first people power. I heard my boss, Tony Meer, echoing the anguish of Adrian Cristobal that if martial law should end, it should end right then and enough of the agony. There was one socialite who presumably an unabashed fan of Marcos who countered that the dictator’s staying power validated his brilliance. Notwithstanding these social or ideological quirks, I lawyered steadfastly.

When martial law was declared in ’72, I was taking up my law preparatory together with a high school buddy. Soon after, he shifted to dentistry heeding his father’s advice that there was no more future to lawyering as the jobs of judges and justices were taken over by the men in uniform, courtesy of Marcos. My friend might be right so as insurance, I went to business school.

In Camp Crame, there was that powerful Office of Civil Relations that summons from that office sent the addressee in nervous breakdown. 99% of the cases filed before it ended up in settlement. The element of fear and the martial ambience were enough to convince the respondents to settle pronto, or suffer the antiseptic inquisition of the colonels or generals. It was an effective tool, coupled by the jarring conviction of Lim Seng, a drug dealer, by a military court and his subsequent public execution by a choreographed firing squad. The electric chair was functional then, but Marcos wanted an impact and the drama of open retribution. The psychological impact made the Filipinos a disciplined bunch. Once more, the judiciary became a punching bag of Marcos as a bane is the exploitation and oppression of the ordinary citizen. The delay in the disposition of cases was done away by the OCR satisfying the need for swift dispensation of justice. And for good reason. Prior to martial law, corruption dogged the judiciary. Upon its declaration, the members of the bench were called to submit their courtesy resignation. And there started the great purge. The Bureau of Internal Revenue, among other agencies, was practically overhauled, firing out the most notoriously undesirable examiners. Many of them however were not charged for unexplained wealth, hence, they practically enjoyed their retirements. Marcos had the blueprint of a new order he called the New Society. It was at first impressive. Justice was delivered to the masa that endeared Marcos to them. Erap was just a mayor of a small town in Metro-Manila. In an international conclave in Hawaii where he was the guest speaker, Marcos introduced Erap deprecatingly as the King of the Jeepney Drivers.

Tax collection skyrocketed just like what Commissioner Willie Parayno is doing right now. Martial law achieved a balance of payment. The economy was on track. There was discipline everywhere. More importantly, there was no jueteng for about a couple of years and the Filipinos observed a tight work ethic under the daylight saving time. Marcos to the consternation of his critics was to be proved right. Since everything was centralized, doing business was orchestrated from the palace. Without any good connect, any investor or professional could only do so much. The mining business then was monopolized by the First Couple. “This is mine that is mine.” Imelda said that “if you are not mine, then you can not mine your own business.” The judges, all the way to the Supreme Court, kowtow to the couple and their subalterns. ACCRA then was The Firm. And the legal Rasputin was the Minister of Justice, Titong Mendoza. The law offices of the Tanadas, Joker Arroyo, Diokno, Sumulong, and others identified as the political opposition, thus, enemies of the state, folded up.

Because Marcos was a lawyer, the courts were given the semblance of normalcy. Exercising the art of legal brinkmanship, he allowed some independent minded holed outs to remain as justices, like Justice Claudio Teehankee. The unemployed lawyers brought cases after cases to the Supreme Court questioning the legality of every executive decree issued by Marcos. To his credit however, Marcos issued presidential decrees that made the lawyers busy. Hence he issued the limited naturalization law by administrative process. Thousands of aliens particularly Chinese availed themselves of this remedy. Some transactions were criminalized like bungled trust receipts were classified as swindling and he penalized the issuance of dishonoured checks. Batas Pambansa Bilang 22, while dished out by the unicameral Batasang Pambansa then, was practically a Marcos brainchild.

With the advent of REPUBLIC ACT NO. 9227, or AN ACT GRANTING ADDITIONAL COMPENSATION IN THE FORM OF SPECIAL ALLOWANCES FOR JUSTICES, JUDGES AND ALL OTHER POSITIONS IN THE JUDICIARY WITH THE EQUIVALENT RANK OF JUSTICES OF THE COURT OF APPEALS AND JUDGES OF THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSE, law practice was never the same again. Many lawyers have expressed disappointment when the said law was passed as it pinched on where it matters most: their pockets. One RTC Clerk of Court has observed that the number of cases filed in her court has gone down due to the filing fee increases. Another lawyer expressed the frustration that clients now are far between, shopping for legal advice and canvassing for lawyer’s acceptance fees. Chief Justice Davide, aware of the current woes of lawyers, came out with the idea of “retail law practice”. RA 9227 states in part:

Section 1. Declaration of Policy. – It is hereby declared a policy of the State of adopt measures to guarantee the independence of the Judiciary as mandated by the Constitution and public policy, and to ensure impartial administration of justice, as well as an effective and efficient system worthy of public trust and confidence.

Sec.  2. Grant of Special Allowances. – All justices, judges and all other positions in the Judiciary with the equivalent rank of justices of the Court of Appeals of the Regional Trial Court as authorized under existing laws shall be granted special allowances equivalent to one hundred percent (100%) of the basic monthly salary specified for their respective salary grades under Republic Act No. 6758, as amended, otherwise known as the Salary Standardization Law, to be implemented for a period of four (4) years. The grant of special allowances shall be implemented uniformly in such sums or amounts equivalent to twenty-five percent (25%) of the basic salaries of the positions covered hereof. Subsequent implementation shall be in such sums and amounts and up to the extent only that can be supported by the funding source specified in Section 3 hereof.

Sec.  3. Funding Source. – The amount necessary to implement the additional compensation in the form of special allowances granted under this Act shall be sourced from, and charged against, the legal fees originally prescribed, imposed and collected under Rule 141 of the Rules of Court prior to the promulgation of the amendments under Presidential Decree No. 1949, dated July 18, 1984, and from the increases in current fees and new fees which pay be imposed by the Supreme Court of the Philippines after the effectivity of this Act. In the event that the said amounts are insufficient to cover the grant of allowances on the last year of implementation of this Act, the National Government shall subsidize the special allowance granted for justices, judges and all other positions in the Judiciary with the equivalent rank of justices of the Court of Appeals and judges of the Regional Trial Court as authorized under existing laws in an amount not exceeding One hundred sixty-five million pesos (Php 165,000,000.00) per annum. If the collections from any increase in current fees and any new fees imposed after the effectivity of this Act exceed the amount needed to fund the special allowances granted to justices, judges and all other positions in the Judiciary with the equivalent rank of justices of the Court of Appeals and judges of the Regional Trial Court as authorized under existing laws, the surplus may be used by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to grant additional allowances exclusively to other court personnel not covered by the benefits granted under this Act.

Contrary to its avowed purpose, this law is anti-poor. This runs counter to the “free access” clause of the Constitution. Why should the quest for justice be made a private matter? In effect it now becomes the duty of the people to pay the judiciary to do its job. Next time we will pay the PNP to run after the criminals and the AFP, to sic the insurgents. How can there be impartial administration of justice when only the rich and the powerful could go to court? Prohibitive filing fees discouraged militant lawyers from filing petitions before the courts questioning dubious government actions.

A client called me up one time when he received a notice from the municipal engineer advising him to tear down his concrete fence and steel gate as these structures allegedly encroached a public street. He was given a deadline to do so otherwise the said local official shall proceed accordingly at the expense of the property owner. The condemnation was done without any public hearing and in clear violation of his right to due process. I told him apply for an Injunction before the courts. When he found out that the filing fee is almost P5, 000.00 over and above the lawyer’s fee, he backed out and initiated the demolition of his fence with a heavy heart. He later asked me, “wala bang mura-murang justicia?”

There was this complainant in a Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court who simply threw in the towel and begged the judge to dismiss the case she filed against a burglar. When she was asked why, she simply said she was getting tired of going back to court and she had no more time to attend to the protracted process as her absence from her job costs more than her prosecuting her case. She told the judge that she was early in court at around 8:30 am. The judge appeared at 9:30 am. The cases in the calendar are unbelievably 55 in all. Once a case was called it took the court seven to ten minutes the dispose of it. How in heaven’s name can the court be expected to wind up at 12 noon when 55 times 7 minutes is more than six hours? “Pakawalan na po ninyo yang akusado,” she pleaded the court. A poor country like us can no longer dispense justice to its people. Instead of looking for solutions on the heavy docket, Congress and the Supreme Court saw a business opportunity.

There’s a school of thought that says martial law succeeded in its initial stages because of Marcos. It collapsed because of Imelda. Marcos, steeped in history and jurisprudence knew where he stood in his country’s history. He could have alighted from the tiger and led his nation once more to democracy. But like the proverbial fly, he thought he was higher than the carabao. His feet, after all, were made of clay.

For those who long for a military junta to replace the current civilian authority, please take heed the lessons of history. No one from the military top brass now approximate the vision of Marcos, or his intelligence. Elections afford the people to acquaint themselves with their leaders. Military adventurism or armed revolution has no such thing. Strangers with messianic complex would rule the roost. Latin American countries provide us the curriculum. Marcos taught us that even he had a dark side. Being led by an untested martial leader whose unknown dark side looms in the corner, spells disaster to the nation.

During my stay in that Makati law firm, I was exposed not only to litigation, but also in appellate practice. Practically all the cases that I handled commenced in the lower courts and invariably elevated on appeal up to the Supreme Court. My mindset was therefore honed to exhausting all legal available means, and that meant bringing the controversy up to the portals of the highest court. I tell my clients that justice for them can be obtained somewhere in the deep judicial thicket. In Calauag, when justice is elusive or expensive to wage, we despairingly say, ipa sa Dios mo na. If not in the trial court, justice can be had in the appellate courts or from the heavens. Not only am I assured of a page in the Supreme Court Reports Annotated, appellate practice gave me some sense of feat as the briefs submitted to the superior courts provided me the chance to speak out my mind on the subject of the appeal. Lawyers are wordsmiths. It’s a sheer talent to lay word by word a legal opus advocating a client’s cause.

Former Quezon Judge Jose Hernandez commented in one pre-trial holding a thick memorandum of law freshly submitted by one counsel, “this is a work of love, where time and a piece of life was expended. Clients should understand that.” Once a brief is finished, the lawyer as craftsman heaves a sigh of relief that a decade-long legal skirmish is through only to be bound over to another tribunal ready to tear it apart. If a painter could capture a configuration of objects in his canvass or a novelist, describes an emotion, or a composer a combination of heart-rending musical notes, a lawyer compacts in his pleadings the cause of his client and advocating its righteousness. The lawyer’s mettle as an artist is shown by treading on thin ice of liberation or submission where his advocacy is centred on justice. Liberation, when his belief is tested on the crucible of peer scrutiny. Whether justice is done is of no moment so long as his expression filled a vacuum. Submission, when his audience is convinced by his passion.

The French call it TRANCHE DE VIE, a slice of life. Assessing his own abilities in 1963, Frank Sinatra sounded a note that was quintessentially characteristic: forlorn and tough. ”Being an 18-karat manic-depressive, and having lived a life of violent emotional contradictions, I have an over acute capacity for sadness as well as elation,’‘ he said. ”Whatever else has been said about me personally is unimportant. When I sing, I believe, I’m honest.” New York Times, May 14, 1998.

 

Leave a Reply