An open letter to Judge Andres Soriano

I write this open letter to Judge Andres Soriano, my contemporary as a philosophy student in Ateneo de Manila University (I was two years below him) and an alumnus of the Ateneo Law School which is one of nine law schools I am affiliated with.

Let me go straight to the point: Judge Soriano, thank you very much for your wise and courageous decision in the Trillanes amnesty case. People have described it as Solomonic, I think it is brilliant, based on a fair appreciation of the facts, grounded on clear legal principles, and consistent with the highest moral principles.

Judge Soriano, you did the right thing the right way. Some people do the right thing but are not able to execute it the right way. They get reversed when they cannot defend their decision. I cannot see any possibility of your decision being reversed by the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court.

Judge Soriano, thank you for giving me an example of what a good lawyer and Judge is. I face 400 law students every week – mostly JD or LLB first year students but also around 100 graduate law students (Deans, Judges, law professors, prosecutors, public attorneys, and law practitioners) – and it has been difficult to find someone to point to as a model for the wise and learned Judge. I do know some Justices and Judges personally, and I know they are good people, but none has become as prominent as you because of the Trillanes controversy.

I make my students read your Trillanes order. It will be the basis of one final exam question in my constitutional law classes. I will ask my students to compare your order to that of Judge Alameda and to argue which is legally, morally, and politically correct. While respecting their opinion, this is one question where there is only one correct answer.

Judge Soriano, you remind me of your fellow alumnus, Justice Pompeyo Diaz. Now, there is also a Judge to be emulated!

Justice Diaz, a son of a Supreme Court Justice, was Court of First Instance (now Regional Trial Court) Judge, Solicitor General, and a Court of Appeals Presiding Justice. He was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Elpidio Quirino but was unfortunately not confirmed on time by the Commission of Appointment (there was no Judicial and Bar Council at that time). The election of Ramon Magsaysay overtook that appointment. Justice Diaz was Dean of the Ateneo School of Law from 1967-1974 where he taught, among others, the late Chief Justice Renato Corona.

In 1981, Justice Diaz delivered the commencement address to the graduating class of Ateneo Law School. That address is posted prominently in the hallways of the Rockwell campus of the Ateneo Professional Schools. At the end of the semester, I require my Philosophy of Students to read that speech as the final assignment.

To honor you, Judge Soriano, I share below excerpts from that speech as you have been faithful to what Justice Diaz expected all lawyers, and especially Judges who are graduates of the Ateneo Law School, should be.

“Some forty years ago, I took my oath of office as judge of the Court of First Instance for the Province of Rizal in the chambers of a Justice of the Supreme Court. This was my first appointment to the bench. You know I had several. It was an occasion for deep pride in my family especially when the appointee was hardly thirty-five years of age and the Justice administering the oath to him happened to be his own father.

After the oath-taking, my father took me in his own car and drove me to the courthouse in Pasig. He led me into the building, up the stairs, to the second floor, and walked with me to the door of the sala which would now be mine. He stood by the door and let me enter alone. I did, and I went straight to my desk. There I saw a piece of paper upon which were written in Latin, in my father’s own handwriting, those awesome words which must have shaken the walls of the Senate of ancient Rome: Let Justice be done, though the heavens fall!

In a lifetime devoted to the study of the law, these words still do not fail to stir up in me emotions which should have long since been spent, memories which should have long since been put to sleep, questions which should have long since been laid aside. What is the law? What is the truth? What is justice?

What is justice? It is to render to each man what is his due. What is the truth? It is that which you seek, and keep on seeking, so that you may render to each man what is his due. What is the law? It is the instrument by which you discover that which you have been seeking so that you may render to each man what is his due.

The answers seem such simple directives for everyone to follow. The reality, however, is different. For the law may be twisted to hide the truth in the same way that the truth may be distorted to ridicule justice. There are men in any society who are so self-serving that they try to make the law serve their selfish ends. In this group of men, the most dangerous is the man of the law who has no conscience. He has, in the arsenal of his knowledge, the very tools with which he can poison and disrupt society and bring it to an ignoble end. Against such a man, you must be fearless and indomitable, since to grant him victory is to deny yourselves the sanctity your oath and the grandeur of your vision.

Such men I have met in my lifetime, both in the courtroom and outside it. Society’s declared protection against such predators is the court of law before which all men are presumed to stand equal, whether mighty or weak. The integrity of the court is the foundation upon which a just society to established. Without this integrity, the vicissitudes of history will blow society towards the treacherous reefs of destruction and suck it into the whirlpool of oblivion.

A man of the law with a conscience on the other hand, is the means by which a nation fashions for itself a just, orderly and civilized society, where the least of its citizens can stand in his human dignity and where justice is the yardstick by which the citizen measures himself in his relationship with others and with his God.

Yet, a man of the law should have more than just a conscience. Conscience, too, can be dulled by exigencies in one’s life. He may just seek a livelihood from the law. Then no matter how financially successful he becomes, and no matter how much expertise he acquires in the law and its practice, he remains no more than a craftsman. He rises no higher than the humble or mechanic from whom we expect nothing beyond an honest day’s work and an honest charge for work performed, and to whom we would not dream of looking for leadership, guidance, and inspiration. He reduces law to a trade and himself to a mere huckster of legal skills.

What a man of the law should possess is a passion for the truth, a passion for justice. This passion should be of such a magnitude as to give him the power to stand firm when those around him seem to be going mad. It should be of such solidity as to grant him the strength to stand alone when all else is turning into dust. It should be of such perseverance as to infuse him with a loneliness that only those who have a vision can endure. It is a passion to keep alive that eternal challenge that justice must be done whatever be the cost.”

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