Court trial in Metro Manila is a time consuming endeavor. One would get up early in the morning to go to his court assignment and reach the court after one or three hours travel because of the traffic jam in the streets of Metro Manila. Though you wake up at five in the morning and be done with your morning ritual and breakfast at seven, your two hours or so travel barely makes you to the court which normally bangs its gavel at nine and closes the session hall at past twelve noon. Some predictable traffic snarl in most streets of Manila can lengthen your travel woes and either you were late or the judge was. You arrived panting and wheezing and the first thing you do was to look at a three-page calendar of cases for the day and find out that you were on the third page of the calendar. It takes about one and a half hours to call the cases in open court to find out which of those in the list were to proceed to trial. Most of the time, pyrotechnics erupt on preliminary issues between two lawyers, thus your waiting time could stretch to another hour. At 12:00 noon or at one o’clock in the afternoon either you were hungry or the judge was, and the court would adjourn. Most cases are re-scheduled for a couple of months or even three months. Courts in the Philippines do not hold afternoon session except for certain courts whose judges were too earnest to dispose of the backlogs in their courts. Afternoon is normally devoted to writing orders and decisions. A trial lawyer in the big cities like Metro Manila wasted most of his time commuting to the court then waiting for the clerk of court to wrap up the roll-call of his calendar. Of the three dozen of cases scheduled for the day, only about three cases would go to trial. You were extremely lucky if your case went to trial and saw some glimmer of a head start of a case that had been with the court for almost eternity; otherwise you would go back to your office ahead of other lawyers who felt more honorable because the day’s fee paid by the client is not lost as he has to slug it out in court with his equally gallant opponent lawyer. But if you were a very enterprising lawyer and had already predicted that there was a ninety per cent chance that your case would be rescheduled for another date, you can accept another assignment on the same date and time in a next door judge then shuffle yourself from one court room to another and be paid on both cases. But more often, a trial lawyer despite his seal to attend to a client’s case had to agree on postponement either suggested by the court or the adverse counsel for “lack of material time”. Thus in most occasions, you have to go back to your office feeling nauseated because you earned your day’s keep by postponing your case and while on your way back to your office you feel even more nauseated by the black smoke and carbon monoxide bellowing from raggedy and rickety buses, trucks and jeepneys that ply the streets of Metro Manila. You find sediment of this pollution even in the exhaust of your private air-conditioned car and you can only empathized with the plight of the people who ride those buses and the pedestrians on the streets that are assaulted daily by this black soot and poisonous gas because for long you have been one of them until you were able to afford your own private car, which oddly enough would not even protect you from this pollution.
A Filipino trial lawyer would not have much time for reflection and to seek for inner meaning and peace. Most of his weekdays proved to be unproductive. At times that his cases were finally over and won them after long years of deep slumber in the courts, his gains were purely symbolic and pyrrhic.
The problems in the streets of Metro Manila are duplicated in the court room where the lawyer used to argue his case. Traffic moves at a snail pace, and so is justice; streets are polluted, and so are some of court decisions. In April 2000, I have migrated to the US and left my solo and comfortable law practice. I have simple needs and simple taste; no fancy cars, jewelries, and mansions, thus a dozen or so clients support my expenses and my wife worked as a nurse in the US even before the children and I have relocated to America. I have my private thought about leaving my law practice because I love the law and dread leaving it. I have wished that my private thought about my leaving the country to seek for some greener pasture and peace should remain private up to my grave until the Supreme Court censured me for allegedly “extorting” an individual who failed to pay his apartment rentals, then I thought that this private thought should be made public too. In my argument with the Supreme Court explaining that I was not guilty of “technical extortion” I have added a footnote:
I have mixed feelings when in year 2000 I have decided to migrate to the US to face an uncertain future. I love my profession and I love the law. I graduated from University of the Philippines, (UP) in 1978 and I believe I learned the law well and had made use of it honorably and decently. I learned it through hard work and countless hours of reading books from the UP Library at UP Law Center and from professors who have remained steadfast to the core values of honor, integrity and valor. I consider the law profession noble and I consider it as a battlefield; a ferocious, vicious and violent one, and I consider myself as a soldier. This battlefield is littered with lawyers, charlatans and scoundrels alike who wanted to get at each other’s throat everyday in the courtroom as well as in the corporate boardrooms. After 19 years of “soldiering”, I thought it was time to quit the battlefield and seek for inner meaning and peace. But giving this battlefield up was not an easy task. I thought I can get away from this field so easily but I was wrong. The thought that if I were to leave I would have surrendered the battlefield to card-bearing scoundrels, distresses me no end. But nonetheless I left the Philippines. I quit the battlefield and I wept. Now I weep even more to know that even the once prestigious IBP has been invaded by scoundrels, scumbags and all. I have brought this agony and anguish upon myself to bear and blame no one else, for despite the grand claim of having known it all, I have miserably failed in learning one enduring core value: VALOR. Like a true soldier I should have not quit the battlefield. I should have died fighting.
September 12, 2005, Dearborn, MI. USA.
In America, I was blessed with time to reflect. I have time to watch television documentaries and political and economic analysis of television hosts and their guest of experts. But like the television talk shows in the Philippines, the US television has it own share of garbage polluting the airwaves. I am not about to discuss this pollution. I have selectively chosen TV programs which were very enriching and informative. I have watched President Richard Nixon’s documentary and had sympathized with the man of enduring courage and wisdom. With all his fault and shortcomings, he had the wisdom and the courage to take the fall and sacrificed everything in the interest of the greater good, that of the Nation and the people by resigning the Presidency. Courage that we did not see from Mr. Marcos until the nation moved in on him in the streets of Mendiola and EDSA and courage we did not see from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court when his integrity was placed in serious doubt so the Supreme Court can recover from whatever integrity left with it after cavorting with Mr. Marcos during those long martial law years. Courage we did not see from Mr. Estrada until few deaths littered the streets of Metro Manila and his cabinet secretaries had abandoned him solitarily in Malacanang Palace in 2001.
I was amazed with Nixon’s fortitude to seek the “peace at the center” and not to hate the people who have hated him. His philosophy could have been influenced by someone who walked this earth more than 2,000 years ago and who gave us the first enduring philosophy that we should turn our left cheek when our enemy hit us on the right cheek. The same enduring virtue Gandhi used in subduing the proud and almost invincible British Empire. It was the same philosophy that Senator Benigno Aquino had tried to emulate before he was murdered in 1983 in an international airport in Manila, now named to honor him.
Gandhi was willing to be bruised by the British soldiers without let up and without putting up a fight until the soldiers would lose their appetite to beat him up.
Senator Aquino was imprisoned by Mr. Marcos for 7 years and was sentenced to die by Mr. Marcos’ military tribunal but when he got the news that Mr. Marcos was ill, he hurried back home to talk some sense to the President to call for an election and transfer power to the civilian government instead of allowing a military junta to rule the country.
In the Philippines I have no time to reflect. I was too busy trying to earn a living and reflection was a commodity I could not afford. When in court, most people you have met were very uninteresting people, who just like you, were simply trying to earn a livelihood and have no time for intellectual and philosophical discourse.
In separate occasions I have witnessed two lawyers while in Court suffered heart attack. One died in the courtroom and the other was partially paralyzed. The one who died was a total stranger to me and the one who was paralyzed was a lawyer of the Philippine National Railways whom I have met as an opposing counsel in a case. We ended up good friends after the case was terminated. The one who died was not fortunate enough to write about his trial experience in court, while my friend may not be able to write as good as when he was healthy. I am more fortunate because God has given me time to reflect and to write.
I am writing my reflections now though I have yet to attain my inner peace. If I had my peace, I would have been tolerant of the foibles of the Supreme Court and the corruption of our government officials, but then I would have reneged from my civic duty to call the attention of the mighty that the nation suffers because of its misdeed. A civic duty I have almost abdicated had not the Supreme Court and the IBP called me a despicable extortionist.
It was farthest from my mind to indict the entire judicial system of which on few occasions has provided me with the opportunity to meet decent practitioners, judges and prosecutors. The Supreme Court had virtually motivated me to exercise this civic duty and make this narrative possible.
For almost 19 years as a trial attorney, and about three years as a corporate lawyer of a government-owned and controlled corporation, I have met honorable people who took pride in the ideals that they had been parts of a complex that dispenses justice to everyone. I had agonized over the thought that my contrary perception about this complex could hurt these few good and upright people.
I used to believe that whatever is the sad condition of the judiciary, there is always a silver lining in the horizon for its redemption. I used to tell my classmates who became judges later that I always see deliverance of the judiciary whenever I see my classmates in the bench. But this too was said in private occasions and gatherings among classmates. There were good judges and lawyers who did not graduate from UP and there were bad lawyers and judges who graduated from UP.
Some of those who would agree with me would be quick to point out that I am one of these bad UP graduates. Atty. Vic Hipe would call this a “factory-defect”, a description I could accept with a grain of salt even in the light of the record of the Supreme Court that I have been suspended from the practice of law for one year for “technical extortion”. I always maintained that I am not guilty of this misconduct and those who know how to read the records and evaluate the evidence can attest to this fact.
I must be prepared too for the brickbats thrown on my way genially for after all this is a free country (or is it?) and everyone is entitled to voice out his opinion on the issue.
But I did not draw the first blood.