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A Homage to Six Illustrious Alumni who became Chief Magistrates of the Land

by: Justice Artemon D. Luna (Ret.) 1

The Court of Appeals, a historic Institution created on December 31, 1935 and organized on February 1,1936, celebrates its 70th Foundation Anniversary on February 1, 2006 under the stewardship of Presiding Justice Ruben T. Reyes. On this memorable event, we give honor and pay homage to six distinguished and honorable alumni of the Court - Manuel V. Moran, Ricardo Paras, Cesar Bengzon, Roberto Concepcion, Querube C. Makalintal and Fred Ruiz Castro who rose to become the 7th,8th,9th,10th,11th and 12th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Who would be lucky 13! According to Laurence Urdan,2 everyone is liable to the full extent of his fortune which puts him in the right place and the right time. The Book of Virtues mentions the ideas of virtues, good traits, moral life, ethics and value. Add Sir Edward Coke, in a 17th Century declaration. “I shall do that which shall be fit for a judge to do.”

People looked up to Moran as humble and honest; Paras as quiet and unassuming; Bengzon as serious and scholarly; Concepcion as warm, courteous and kind-hearted; Makalintal as quiet, religious and introverted; and Castro as kind, thoughtful and overly solicitous of the plight of the court employees.

The young boy Manuel born in Binalonan, Pangasinan; Ricardo in Boac, Marinduque; Cesar in Camiling, Tarlac; Roberto in Manila; Querube in San Jose, Batangas; and Fred in Ilocos Norte – all grew up under the personal care and custody of their dutiful parents who molded their mental, spiritual and moral values, carried on under well-trained and educated mentors in grade school and high school and became refined by well-known and acclaimed professors in college.

Moran started his formal law course at Escuela de Derecho and finished at the UP College of Law in 1913. Paras also started at Escuela de Derecho and, transferring to the UP College of Law, graduated in the same year as Moran. They took the Bar together and passed. Bengzon finished his A.B. at Ateneo de Manila, magna cum laude, garnering 40 medals of academic excellence. He took up Ll.B. at U.P. and graduated in 1919 at the top of his class. He placed second in the Bar examinations given in the same year. Concepcion finished his Ll.B. at the University of Santo Tomas, graduating summa cum laude in 1924, took the Bar in the same year and came out topnotcher. Makalintal, a talented Grade 1 pupil of my late mother, took his A.B. and Ll.B. at UP and placed third in the 1933 bar. Castro finished PhD., major in English, cum laude and Ll.B. at the UP and placed seventh in the 1939 bar. Editor of the UP Collegian, he specialized in military law at Michigan State University.

Those were the days when young lawyers dreamt of being jurist law arbiter elegantianum-honorable, refined in character and well-respected in society. As the story goes, Jose P. Laurel, when asked whether he would like to be President, answered “yes”, but added, “I would rather be Chief Justice.”

Moran served as Auxiliary Judge, Judge of the Court of First Instance, Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals, and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. In 1945, President Quezon named him Chief Justice. His concern for the poor resonates in the sensational case of Cuevo v. Barredo.3 He said : Bravery bordering on heroism should not be condemned but commended. If there is negligence at all, it is the negligence of the employer (who places) more value upon a piece of floating log than upon his employee's life, in Krivenko v. Register of Deeds of Manila,4 a case of transcendental constitutional importance, he laid down the doctrine that under the constitution, aliens my not acquire private and public agricultural lands including residential lands.

Paras entered the judiciary in 1924 after his term as member of the House of Representatives ended. He served as a Judge of the Court of First Instance for the next 12 years when he was appointed to the newly organized Court of Appeals. He joined an elect group of 11 magistrates who became the first justices of the Court of Appeals, among them Moran and Bengzon. He was promoted to Presiding Justice in 1940 and elevated to the Supreme Court as Associate Justice in 1941. President Quirino appointed him Chief Justice in 1951. He penned Rodriguez v. Gella5 which declared null and void Executive Order 545 and 546 issued by President Quezon pursuant to the 1941 Emergency Powers Act, saying that the Act was only for a limited period. “ If it be contended that the Act has not yet been repealed, and such step is necessary to a cessation of the emergency powers delegated to the President, the result would be obvious unconstitutionality, since it may never be repealed by the Congress, or if (it) attempts to do so, the President may wield his veto. The situation will make the Congress and the President, or either, as the principal authority to determine the indefinite duration of the delegation of legislative powers, in palpable repugnance of the constitutional provision that any grant thereunder must be of a limited period, necessarily to be fixed in the law itself and not dependent upon the arbitrary or elastic will of either the Congress or of the President.”

Bengzon started as law clerk at the Bureau of Justice, then became Special Attorney at 24, Solicitor General at 35, and Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals at 40. He was promoted to the Supreme Court in 1945 and became Chief Justice in 1961. He emphasized in Espuelas v. People6 that an “attack on the President passes the furthest bounds of free speech and common decency... there is a seditious tendency in the words used, which could easily produce dissatisfaction among the people and a state of feeling incompatible with a disposition to remain loyal to the government and obedient to the laws.”

Concepcion, like Bengzon, rose from the ranks in the government service. He began as an Assistant Attorney in the Bureau of Justice, now the Office of the Solicitor General, was promoted to Assistant Solicitor General, then became Judge-at-Large, District Judge, and Undersecretary of Justice. He was elevated to the Court of Appeals in 1946 and promoted Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in 1954. In 1966, President Marcos appointed him Chief Justice. He penned the landmark Stonehill vs. Diokno7 declaring void 42 search warrants against the prominent American Businessman. He maintained that to uphold the validity of the warrants “would be to wipe out completely one of the most fundamental rights guaranteed in our Constitution, for it would place the sanctity of the domicile and the privacy of communication and correspondence at the mercy of the whim, caprice or passion of peace officers.” In Lansang v. Garcia and allied cases8 involving warrantless arrests and detention under Presidential Proclamation 889 dated August 21, 1971, he took the activist view that the Court has the authority to inquire into the existence of factual basis in order to determine the constitutional sufficiency of the presidential proclamation i.e. that “there has been and there is actually a state of rebellion and that public safety requires that immediate and effective action be taken in order to maintain peace and order, secure the safety of the people and preserve the authority of the State.”

Makalintal started as Assistant Attorney in the government service and went into private practice joining the law office of Claro M. Recto. He returned to the government as Judge-at-Large, Judge of the Court of First Instance, Solicitor General and Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals. He became Presiding Justice in 1961 and was elevated to the Supreme Court in 1962. In 1973, President Marcos appointed him Chief Justice.

He penned Aquino v. Ponce Enrile9 wherein the petitioners were arrested and detained by the military by virtue of Presidential Proclamation 1081 issued on September 21, 1972. The pivotal question raised was whether the Supreme Court may inquire into the validity of the martial law proclamation. He said that he was convinced “without need of receiving evidence as in an ordinary court proceeding that a state of rebellion existed in the country when the proclamation was issued.” He then announced the view that “implicit in a state of martial law is the suspension of the privilege (of the writ of habeas corpus) with respect to persons arrested or detained for acts related to... invasion, insurrection or rebellion... The preservation of society and national survival taken precedence.”

Castro, one of those who organized the Manual of Court Martial, started his military career as a lieutenant and rose to be Judge Advocate General (JAGO) with the rank of full colonel. He was appointed Executive Secretary, then Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals, became its Presiding Justice, and then was elevated to the Supreme Court. In 1976, President Ferdinand Marcos appointed him Chief Justice. All remember him as the Father of Bar Integration and the Katarungang Pambarangay.

Life is difficult. But it is also a great truth. Once you see the truth, accept it, and life will no longer be difficult. Discipline is the basic tool, the cutting edge, in solving life's problems. Without discipline, we can solve nothing. It is through problems that life draws its meaning. Work them out and solve them, and learn and grow in the process.

These ennobling tenets had guided the exemplary lives of our six great magistrates. Renowned and well-respected, they have fought the good fight and finished the race,10 their sterling qualities in place and their oaths guided by the Constitution and their conscience.


1Justice Artemon D. Luna finished Law in San Beda College in 1954 and passed the Bar given in the same year. He was an MBA graduate at UP-PEA. He participated as an observer in the course “International Law for Asia” conducted by UNESCO and attended the Appellate Judges Special Course sponsored by the American Bar Association, in Lake Tahoe, Nevada U.S.A. He was appointed CFI Judge in 1977 and promoted to the Court of Appeals in 1989. He retired as Senior Associate Justice and Chairman of the Second Division on October 8, 1999.

2Oxford Thesaurus, at 5.

365 Phil. 290.

479 Phil. 461.

592 Phil. 603.

690 Phil. 524.

720 SCRA 383.

842 SCRA 448.

959 SCRA 183.

102 Timothy 4:7.




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