Hilario Davide Jr.
January 2001. In one of the most crucial episodes of the year 2000, one man was a beacon of light to every Filipino. When confusion and uncertainty were ripping Filipinos apart, Hilario Davide, Jr., the Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice, upheld the law. His brilliance and sobriety, coupled with his integrity, wisdom and fairness, were steadying factors to a nation in distress.
"There were fears of violent confrontations; of interventions from the right, from the left and the reds; of anarchic upheavals. But the rule of law prevailed because of one man. His name is Hilario Davide, Jr.," said the Philippine Daily Inquirer, in bestowing on the 65-year-old Chief Justice the highest "Filipino of the Year 2000" award.
Although the Impeachment trial, which he presided over through the crippling social crisis, ended in disaster, Davide inspired the Filipinos, who desperately needed heroes like Rizal, del Pilar and Mabini.
At the height of the crisis, Davide stood firm. His upright belief and concern for the nation was apparent as he rebuked the impeachment trial lawyers and senator-judges for their tactics to mislead the people.
Three days before Christmas, there was an air of gloom and uncertainty surrounding not only the tribunal hall, but the entire country, in light of Clarissa Ocampo's testimony. To lighten the burden in every Filipino's heart and ease the tension, Davide, whose eloquence reflects outstanding ideals and philosophy, quoted a verse from the Holy Scripture. Then, he asked all to pray for the country, and concluded the with the Jubilee song before going into recess for the holidays. It was emotional, but everyone knew Davide was in charge. He would have done everything he could to see the conclusion of the trial. However, it was not to be.
When the people trooped to EDSA and the military withdrew its support for President Estrada, Davide swore Vice-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo into office as the new president. While other lawyers question such a decision, Davide, in the midst of the failing leadership where a president lost the moral and constitutional support of his people, stood and declared the time honored principle of "SALUS POPULI EST SUPREMA LEX" (The welfare of the people is the supreme law). Thus, the oath-taking of Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as the President of the Philippines.
Who would have thought that a poor boy, who once walked to school barefoot, would one day become Supreme Court Chief Justice and play a significant role in the lives of the Filipinos?
Hilario Davide, Jr., the 6th child of a public school teacher, was born in Colawin, Argao, Cebu on December 20, 1935. At a young age, he decided to be a lawyer, enrolling in the University of the Philippines for a Bachelor of Arts Degree, and later pursuing Law.
Early in his career, Davide taught at the Southwestern University College of Law in Cebu City until 1968. In 1971, he was elected as the delegate of the 4th district of Cebu to the powerful 1971 Constitutional Convention, where he chaired the Committee on Duties and Obligations of Citizens, and Ethics of Public Officials.
From 1978 to 1984, Davide represented Region VII as Assemblyman of the Batasang Pambansa under the opposition banner of the Pusyon Bisaya Party. As the legislative body's first minority floor leader, he opposed the Marcos dictatorship and called for investigations of alleged irregularities and violations of human rights.
When President Corazon Aquino assumed office in 1986, she appointed Davide as Commissioner of the 1986 Constitutional Commission – the group that drafted the present Charter. From February 16, 1988 to January 11, 1990, Davide served as the Chairman of the Commission on Elections. During this time, he also headed the two Presidential Fact-Finding Commissions that probed the circumstances behind the 7 coup d' etats that plagued the Aquino administration. He also served as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court from January 14, 1991 until President Estrada swore him in as the new Supreme Court Chief Justice on November 30, 1998.
Upon assuming the highest post in the judicial branch of government, Davide initiated moves to reorganize the judiciary by weeding out corruption, preserving the tribunal's independence and plugging leaks in the decision-making process.
In November 2000, pursuant to the Constitution, he served as the presiding officer of the Impeachment tribunal composed of the 22 senator-judges. Some people doubted his capability to preside over the Impeachment Court because he was a presidential appointee. But Davide contended that as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, his main duty is to serve God and the people.
In recognizing Davide, the Inquirer said the Chief Justice made the most positive impact on the life of the nation in the previous year. To the Filipinos, Davide is a model worth emulating, and, judging on his present popularity, could easily win an elective post in the coming elections.
But Davide ruled out such a possibility, simply because he does not want his reputation tainted with politics. "I have no political ambition because, as a matter of fact, if I begin to have that ambition now, everybody will suspect my motive,'' Davide told the Inquirer.
Too bad, the country needs a leader like Chief Justice Davide in the executive or legislative branch of government.