The resolution of Acting DOJ Secretary Alberto Agra exonerating Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan from the charge of murders of some 57 people in Maguindanao highlights two basic truism in our judicial process, 1) the powerful and the well-connected are above the law and 2) our judicial machinery are occupied by corrupt prosecutors or corrupt judges.
In my book, I have written:
“If you had been in a trial lawyer for a number of years you would know who among the judges in the particular jurisdiction openly accept money from litigants or their lawyers. I have no knowledge that the two justices, who considered me an “technical extortionist” did accept any bribe money and would consider them honest judges then. But now I have second thoughts about their honesty because in my argument with the Supreme Court about my case, I have raised a simple issue that George stacked the apartment subject of the lease with his own personal chattels and considered the apartment his personal leasehold already and if the Court considers George wronged because he was ejected from the premises the rents of which he paid with bounced checks, the Court would be encouraging dishonesty and would send the wrong signal to the community.
These two justices did not consider this point of any moment and therefore they have encouraged dishonesty.
The lower courts as well as the department of justice do not recruit the best legal minds in the country except for the few of them. The Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals and the Sandiganbayan do not recruit the best legal minds either. Some brilliant minds in the SC, CA and the Sandiganbayan were recruited directly from their profitable law practice. One is Justice Antonio Carpio of the Carpio, Villaraza and Cruz Law Offices or the late Justice Francis Garchitorena of the Sandiganbayan who worked with Senator Jose W. Diokno before he was recruited to the Sandigabayan. Justice Garchitorena did not die from illness. He died of heartaches from the Supreme Court’s persecution and he is one great Bicolano jurist. His division has convicted my client for public fund malversation but I came to admire the man because he was truly an honest man.
Retired SC Justice Serafin Cuevas was appointed Justice to the Supreme Court though he had been a CA Justice and an honorable CFI judge. He is one of the few brilliant jurists the country ever had though his luster may have been diminished by perception because he is one of the lawyers of President Estrada.
I have two classmates in the Court of Appeals. One is a bar placer and therefore one of the best legal minds in the country and the other one was just like any other UP law graduate but she has honed in her skill in decision writing and incisiveness while working as a Sandiganbayan Prosecutor and later on as an RTC Judge of Quezon City. A regular talent though from UP College of Law is a cum laude equivalent in lesser colleges and universities, so they said. Other than that, she is straightforward and honest. The country would rather have honest judges with regular talents than brilliant judges who are viciously corrupt. The government cannot recruit the best lawyers because the best ones are already recruited by the big law firms whose compensation packages are commensurate to their potentials. Others were recruited by multinationals. The best lawyers felt that their capacity to earn is circumscribed by the pay the government positions had to offer and therefore would rather go into a private practice or become in-house counsel for big companies for the big money. Some of the best lawyers saw the perks in government positions and took the job and become corrupt.
One cannot see the likes of the late Senator Jose W. Diokno, Senator Lorenzo Tanada, Senator Jovito Salonga, my classmates Alex Poblador and Cosme Rosell, or the younger lawyer Arno Sanidad, or for that matter, Rene Saguisag waiting in line for Regional Trial Court job.
The country sometimes was able to recruit the best legal minds that were also honest for higher positions because these lawyers saw the prestige of the positions and have the desire to be of service to the country. But mostly, the executive department recruited judges out of patronage and the Supreme Court which filtered these aspirants was not insulated from the same closed-door horse-trading, backslapping and patronage inherent in our culture as a people.
The country ended up staffing most of its judicial positions and positions in the department of justice with legal rejects and intellectual pygmies. This lopsided ratio of legal pygmies and giants in the government defines the quality of justice the country dispenses. If you account for the fact that these rejects are also corrupt, the problem is exponentially magnified.
To quote novelist James Baldwin: “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power is the most ferocious enemy justice can have”.
It was only when the Republic was younger and our people were exuding great sense of patriotism, that the best legal minds would like to serve the country by being in the judiciary. Thus we saw in those times the calibre of Jose Abad Santos, Manuel Moran, Cesar Bengzon and J.B.L. Reyes.
My thesis on why the judiciary and the department of justice cannot recruit the cream of the legal community has been with me since my first year of law practice but I did not have the courage to spell it out with more clarity now because the restraint of sounding too all-knowing; pious and self-righteous was too compelling. Besides, during martial law dissent like this is dangerous to one’s life and limbs. I also do not want the entire system to be ganging up on me and ridicule me on the same term as my first year criminal law professor succinctly described me in 1974 as an “upstart”.
The late Professor Bienvenido Ambion was explaining one night in our class (Criminal Law 1) that the Supreme Court in several cases has acted like a pendulum swinging from one legal theory to another resulting in a conundrum of dicta in those cases. The mischievous side of my personality has taken over and I asked the impetuous professor rather bluntly if the pendulum like attitude of the high Court has something to do with scholarly maturity or pure consideration of money.
Professor Ambion blurted out: “You are only an upstart, what right do you have to criticize the well-reasoned decision of the Supreme Court? My classmate-friend, Walter Young looked at me with a wider grin of mischief in his eyes.
Professor Ambion was loved by many of his students including myself despite his having to starve most of us in class. Our Criminal Law 2 class would start from 9:00 a.m. up to 12 noon, but Prof. Ambion would come at 12 noon and dismiss the class at 3 p.m. Nobody would leave the class at 10 or 11 in the morning because no one in the college teaches the law in the grand manner the way the late Professor Ambion teaches criminal law. His familiarity of the subject is like his familiarity of the back of his palm or the wide white ceiling of the amphitheater or the lesser ceiling of Rizal Hall. He can recite jurisprudence after jurisprudence by gazing at the ceiling and would turn on the other side of the ceiling as if reading the opposing jurisprudence in a case complete with commas, period and page number of the volumes of Philippine Reports or SCRA. Nobody would come at 12 noon either because sometimes, he would come at exactly 9:00 a.m. We attended college at time where cell-phones and texting were unheard of thus one classmate can monitor his arrival and inform the others of his presence without them having to wait long hours for his glorious presence.
Professor Ambion was as weird as my classmate Alex Poblador, who when asked about the Prohibited Drugs Act, my classmate has recited the law complete with whereas’s, the title of every chapter and the provisions of the code word for word. The entire class was awed by this rare display of photographic memory that we have to stand up to clap our hands in admiration.
Mr. Poblador was our class valedictorian but another classmate, Cosme Rosell was the bar topnotcher in 1978.
Anyway, Professor Ambion has never gone to court to try a case. He was simply an academician and a true disciple of the law and I could understand the reason why he was naïve of the fact that in our Courts, money actually changed hands.