Separate Opinion

The way we were, April 30, 1995

In 1995 on November 3, 2015 at 1:09 am

I HAD the advantage of studying in public schools before World War II, when they were much better than they are now. The practice then, generally, was to enrol one’s child in a private school only if he could not make it in a public school. There were parents who preferred the exclusive atmosphere (and snobbishness) of private schools, but the students in the public schools were no mean company either. Some of the better families chose the public schools for their children although they could afford the higher cost of private education.

The public schools then gave quality education, without the rowdiness and untidiness of the public schools today. The teachers were excellent (and all proficient in English even if this was not their subject) and the students were well-behaved. There were the usual student pranks, but no hostility or belligerency between them and the faculty. The students and the teachers liked each other. Drug addiction was unknown, even cigarettes were hardly accepted, and weapons of any kind were taboo.

I had my early schooling at the Legarda Elementary School in Sampaloc, then a quiet and friendly district in Manila with a population about one-fourth its present size. The school building was a two-story wooden structure that was always spanking clean. I especially remember the manicured front lawn through which the faculty and visitors entered into the principal’s office on the first floor opposite the library. The students passed through two side gates opening into a spacious campus where they assembled in neat little rows before marching into their classrooms to the piano-playing of a cute little girl in ringlets. During recess, students could buy sandwiches at the lunch counters but not soft drinks.

After graduation, we and other students from the elementary schools in Sampaloc and San Miguel took the “intelligence” tests at the Mapa High School for admission and section assignments based on the results. Mapa was one of only four public high schools in Manila then, the others being Araullo, Arellano and Torres. There were stiff and sometimes unfriendly competitions among the four schools in debate, oratory, military drills and sports, especially baseball (basketball was not as popular then).

Mapa High School was housed in an old wooden building on San Rafael Street in San Miguel. Our principal was Ms. Sarah M. England, a pleasant but strict American lady. The students as a whole were tractable and well-mannered by present standards. The worst discipline problem was gate-crashing during socials, like the graduation ball or a barn dance. Those were our halcyon teenage years. We were preoccupied with the movies of Errol Flynn and Betty Grable, and we all swore be Glenn Miller and his orchestra.

We graduated in 1941, blithely unaware of the war that would invade our country and claim the lives of so many young men among us.

What I especially remember of my education in the public school system is that it was quite inexpensive. This was not of much consequence to me then as a dependent minor, but looking back now, I am amazed at how low the cost of education was during those years. Each student paid a matriculation fee of only P2 and no tuition. Books were rented out by the school at a nominal cost. School supplies, like pad paper and crayons and scissors, were bought by the parents, and the only contribution required from the students was for the 30 centavo Red Cross pin. On top of all this, we all walked to school, still enjoying each other’s company along the way while saving on bus fare.

I have two grandsons, five and four years respectively. Claudio is going to preparatory school next June and Pascal will be entering nursery school. Nursery school is now a requirement for enrollment in kindergarten school and kindergarten school for enrollment in preparatory school before grade school. You can avoid all this and enrol your child directly in Grade I, but it has to be in a public school. Private schools demand completion of all the initial levels before they admit your child.

For the boy in preparatory school, the tuition is P31,000 per year. Moreover, parents are expected to help in fund-raising campaigns for the improvement of the school building and premises. For the other boy in nursery school, the tuition is P18,000 per year, bus fare included. Transportation to and from the preparatory school entails another outlay of P350 per month – P3,500 for 10 months.

I have “graduated” from the obligation of providing for my children’s education, but I feel for the parents who must now see their children through their schooling – from nursery to college – at fantastically high tuition and other fees. Congress should probe their problems more assiduously to arrive at a rational solution.

Shadow on the court, April 29, 1995

In 1995 on November 3, 2015 at 12:29 am

WHEN a new member of the Supreme Court assumes office, his 14 colleagues will unload on him 10 new cases each. That makes a total of 140 cases immediately transferred to him, on top of the cases he will “inherit” from his predecessor and the cases that will thereafter be raffled to him regularly. The number of cases he inherits will depend on the industry, or lack of it, of the members he has replaced. Some retiring justices left practically no backlog, but others were less diligent and saddled their successors with work that they themselves should have done.

When the reorganized Supreme Court took over in 1986 following the EDSA revolution, it was confronted with a massive backlog of no less than 6,000 cases, some of them decades old. Apparently the old court had been taking it easy. Over the years, however, we were able to reduce and eventually wipe out that backlog.

I remember that shortly before his retirement in April 1988, Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee requested us to redouble our efforts in trimming our caseload as our birthday present to him. We all delivered and actually increased our output by 100 percent that month. That was a feat he could point to with pride in his retirement address as one of the major achievements of the Teehankee Court.

The practice of “unloading” is one of the reasons for transferring a case from one division of the court to another. There are other reasons, such as where two related cases are raffled to two separate divisions and it is decided by the court, motu proprio or on motion of the parties, to consolidate them in the division where the first case was filed. Transfer is also authorized where there are not enough votes to render a decision in the division to which the case had been assigned, as when three of its members are inhibited for some valid personal or official reason. The decision under challenge, for example, may have been penned by a member of the division when he was in the lower court, or the other members may be related to the parties or their counsel.

Two of my close friends from the Supreme Court are presently at loggerheads over the case of Bank of America v. Inter-Resin Industrial Corp., which was decided on Dec. 10, 1993. Justice Ruperto G. Martin has charged Justice Florentino P. Feliciano with maneuvering to have the case transferred from the first division to the third division, of which he is chairman, and exerting improper influence on behalf of Bank of America, which his former law firm was representing. Justice Martin says that instead of inhibiting himself, Justice Feliciano actually participated in the deliberation of the case and signed the decision favoring the petitioner.

In a resolution issued about two weeks ago, the Supreme Court en banc rejected the accusations and held that the transfer from the first division was not made at Justice Feliciano’s prodding but as a result of the unloading of the case by a member of that division to Justice Vitug after he joined the court. The court reaffirmed its confidence in Justice Feliciano.

The latter submitted a separate statement where he made a wounded protestation that he had never, while he was a member of his former law firm, represented Bank of America in the case and neither had he pressured his colleagues in the third division when it came up for deliberation and decision. It was easy to feel his pain over the unjust assault on his good name.

I was the chairman of the first division when the transfer of the case was effected, and I can vouch on my honor that Justice Feliciano never “manipulated” it. I would not have permitted any interference from him or any other justice. This transfer was an innocuous act of “unloading” in accordance with the established practice of the court, and there was nothing sinister or secret about it. Everything done was on record and aboveboard.

I am not aware of what transpired in the third division after the case was transferred to it, but I have no doubt about the probity of all its members. I have differed often enough with some of them, but only on questions of facts and law before the court, and not on the sincerity and much less the integrity of their convictions. More importantly, I have complete faith in the rectitude of Justice Feliciano, who will never stoop to any shoddiness that will blacken his sterling character.

I have much affection for Justice Martin, who was my dean when I started teaching at the UE College of Law back in 1959. I succeeded him as chairman of the Code Commission and was elated to see him elevated to the Court of Appeals and the the Supreme Court. I remember that when I myself was named to that court, he was one of my earliest well-wishers. He advised me not to be daunted by the heavy volume of work facing me and to take it easy and to avoid the stroke he suffered while he was in office.

But I will vouch for Justice Feliciano anytime and without reservation. He is an honorable man. I grieve for the shadow of suspicion that has been cast upon him – and the court – for it is a mere phantasm.

The Judicial and Bar Council, April 23, 1995

In 1995 on November 2, 2015 at 11:52 pm

THE Judicial and Bar Council is a creation of the 1987 Constitution and did away with the confirmation of judicial appointments by the Commission on Appointments. The purpose was to depoliticize the judiciary by removing as much as possible the influence of politics in the selection of judges and in their subsequent conduct in office.

It was felt that by continuing the old practice, the new charter would be perpetuating one of the most serious threats to the independence of the judiciary. Judges appointed or confirmed with the help of padrinos tended to repay their debt of gratitude with rigged decisions at the behest of patrons cashing in their chips. Others curried favor with senators and congressmen in hopes that these legislators may prove helpful for future promotions and confirmation.

The Judicial and Bar Council is a constitutional body. It is composed of the chief justice as chairman, the secretary of justice and a member of Congress as ex officio members, and a representative of the integrated bar, a professor of law, a retired member of the Supreme Court, and a representative of the private sector. The regular members are appointed by the president of the Philippines for four years with the consent of the Commission on Appointments. Each of the seven members has one vote. The representation from Congress is shared by a senator and a congressman, each of whom casts one-half vote.

Charges against aspirants for judicial positions are considered in private by the JBC. Complainants may be given a chance to support their objections and the candidate may be allowed to refute them. Hearings are not obligatory, however, and the council may simply act summarily on the charges. There is no right to be nominated after all, and the decisions of the body are highly discretionary.

Among the criteria for the nomination of a candidate are competence, integrity, record in the bar examination, experience in the legal profession, and personality. One perennial aspirant for the Supreme Court has been consistently rejected for lack of delicadeza in openly and personally campaigning for his nomination., Another candidate has been bypassed several times because of a rather servile manner and serious doubts about his integrity and morality.

I sat as a consultant of the JBC for some time and was especially impressed with the diligence of the members, particularly the regular ones, in screening hundreds of applications for the various judicial vacancies. These members even go around the country to interview prospective nominees, many of whom are unable to come to Manila for financial and other reasons. Visits of the JBC members and the schedule of interviews are announced in advance by the local IBP chapters.

But for all the improvement it has effected in the selection of judges and justices, the JBC has not completely succeeded in resisting the influence of politics. The secretary of justice is in that body to express and protect the wishes of MalacaƱang and there are also the members of the legislature whose principal role is to submit to the council the recommendees of their colleagues in Congress. The fact that the regular members of the JBC are appointed by the president may also emasculate their independence. Where the president’s own preferences are at stake, it is not unlikely that the chief justice may find his only ally in the retired justice of the Supreme Court, but even this is not certain.

The staggering of the terms of the regular members at yearly intervals is good, but perhaps there should also be a prohibition against their reappointment as in the case of the constitutional commissions. The secretary of justice could be retained for his valuable insights in the judicial and prosecutorial systems but only as a consultant without the right to vote. The representation from Congress should be taken out as inimical to the very purpose of the creation of the JBC.

The JBC is supposed to make at least three nominations for each judicial vacancy, but no maximum number is prescribed. The bigger the number of nominations, the wider the discretion given to the president and the weaker the independence of the council becomes. At one selection of the nominee to the Supreme Court, the JBC chose five names but when the MalacaƱang candidate was not included, his supporters moved to expand the list. This is one way a candidate favored by the president may be accommodated and eventually appointed.

I believe the incumbent justices of the Supreme Court should be consulted on the filling of any vacancy in the body because they will be working with whoever is chosen to sit with them and it is imperative that they have confidence in his ability and integrity. It takes only one member to throw a monkey wrench into their proceedings and make the entire membership ineffective if not suspect, or at least embarrassed by the pariah among them.

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