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A sequel

(Article published in the June 27, 2007 issue of Manila Standard Today)  
        In the 05 August 2002 issue of my column called “Trusts and Estates” that came out every Monday in TODAY which has since merged with this paper, The Manila Standard Today, I did a review of the first edition of Justice Romeo M. Escareal, Jr.’s “Your Honor…An Autobiography.”  That volume was prepared in time for release on his 75th birthday in June of 2002, seven years after he took optional retirement from the judiciary.

          The final chapter of that edition sounded a clarion call for simple living, by which he meant “a return to the simplicity and lack of hypocrisy as well as the love for the rewards of honest labor”, as an antidote to what he observed all around as “the breakdown of our traditional values, the erosion in our family and community relationships, the blatant defiance of our laws and the rejection of our time-honored customs and tradition.”  He ended, like every lawyer does after his oral argument, with “I now respectfully rest my case.”

           But rest the retired justice definitely did not.  And last Saturday, 23 June 2007, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, a new edition of his autobiography was given to the guests at the dinner-party given by his family at the Ballroom of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Makati City.  On its third printing, the book has 8 additional chapters, a sequel of sorts,  consisting of updates, flashbacks, further reflections, and bits and pieces he frankly calls “trivia”, all in all baring all the more clearly the heart and mind of the man his family is rightfully very proud of. 

           As what is expected of a lawyer who almost all his life was in the practice of law, there was no way the justice would retire from the legal profession.  “During the last few years,” he confesses, “I still managed to give legal advice and counsel to a few retainers, aside from some relatives and friends.  They oftentimes prevailed upon me to provide them with a lawyer of impeccable credentials and unimpeachable honesty because I make it a condition that I will not appear personally in court, except probably as collaborating counsel in the pleadings.”  
  










           That was a bit of an understatement.  He was, at one time or another after his retirement, consultant, among others, to Engineer Vicente Ponce in the latter’s legal tussle with the Alcantaras, to the Philippine Sugar Corporation, and to Oriental Tin Can Corporation.  He was also collaborating counsel in the prosecution of the kidnapper of the daughter of the owners of CDO Corporation. He was bar examiner twice, in 2001 and 2006.

          When his first born Celia, who had chosen to carry the surname of her husband, Sandejas, nevertheless opted to carry on the family tradition of being lawyers, the justice had his mentoring work cut out for him. One year before he retired, Celia graduated from UP and, in 1996, passed the bar with a grade of 83.6%.  She became a lawyer like one that took too long a borning: by the time she took her oath, she was aged 45 and grandmother of two.

           Father and daughter immediately set up office at Madrigal Building in Escolta, Manila; the Justice doing unto his daughter what his own father did unto him, around 45 years earlier in a place not too far away at the  Roman Santos Building in the district of Sta. Cruz.

           The justice and Celia worked on a variety of cases.  They secured the reversal at the Supreme Court of the conviction of policeman sentenced to imprisonment for life for murder.  A South Korean student, who was apprehended at the NAIA departure area with nine bullets in his backpack, was saved from prosecution when they were able to convince the Department of Justice that the kid was carrying the ammunition only as amulets.  A cavan of rice and some native chickens constituted their attorney’s fees for winning the acquittal of a hotel waiter charged with raping of his housemaid three times in his residence.  The collaboration ended when Celia joined the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2000.

           Revealing of his person are Chapters 37 and 38 containing his reflections on issues of life and living.  Chapter 37 is his recollection of what he saw two and half decades earlier on a television show broadcast during the Holy Week by the Voice of America through its TV satellite: the legend of “The Fourth Magi.” Legend has it that a fourth king also saw the star of Bethlehem and set forth to bear the Child Jesus his gift.  But he got derailed by one event after another and was able to catch up with the Christ only at Golgotha just when He was about to die.  By then, the fourth magus has “squandered” all the gifts he had intended to give to the Boy doing good to his fellow men.  And he too was then at the point of death.  But, recounts the Justice, “at the precise moment that Jesus Christ breathed his last, the pilgrim-physician followed suit but not before a vision of Jesus Christ appeared before him and said, “Whatever you have done for the least of my brethren, you have done for me.”

           The Justice’s telling is not as compelling as Edzard Schaper’s, but the drift is the same.  “To my mind,” says the Justice, “this story should be told and retold because of its unique message—that is in our acts of service that we best serve and show our love for God…”

           In Chapter 38, entitled “The Four (4) Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, additional 5th and 6th are the politicians and the press…” Many I am sure will agree without too much convincing.

           The rest of the sequel is just as interesting but, as we ask our students, should be read in the original. Let me skip to last paragraph: “I write finis to this autobiography of mine with heartfelt gratitude to those who had come into and touched my life and, having given me the satisfaction of their friendship and  respect, allowed me, in turn, to reciprocate these favors and virtues.  Thank you and may God bless all of you.”

           To the sentiments of gratitude, I concede.  But “finis’?  I will not bet my money on it.  The Justice still plays two to three games every Sunday at the Club Filipino pelota court, teaming up as back player to Jimmy Gabihan, wielding his “E-FORCE” racket.  With the number one player teamed up with the oldest one (I will not say who is which), the tandem, claims the Justice, is “running roughshod” over its opponents.  The final score, I am sure, is still to be written in The Sequel-Part 2.

           For he has already invited all of us to his 85th birthday celebration.  And, God willing, I intend to be there too, sharing the same table, as I did last Saturday, with Justice Escareal’s better half Amelia (whom the young Romeo convinced to get married to him secretly in a civil ceremony in Paombong, Bulacan fifty seven years ago)  as well as with Justices of the Sandiganbayan Ma. Christina Cortez-Estrada and Francisco Villaruz; Justices of the Supreme Court Consuelo Inarez-Santiago and Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez; and SEC Chairperson Fe Barin, who was escorted by a young man whom she claimed was a relation.  I did not ask any further.

  

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