A dream coming true

MANILA, Philippines -Accompanied by my wife Leni, I arrived from Osaka a few days ago. Earlier, in Tokyo, I called on Japanese Chief Justice Hiro Shimada and Senior Deputy Foreign Minister Katsuhito Asano to thank them for the no-strings-attached P300-million grant the Japanese government gave last year to help the Supreme Court in building the Philippine Judicial Academy (Philja) Development Center in Tagaytay.

No government expense. The generous cash gift was handed to the Philippine government by Japanese Ambassador Ryuichiro Yamazaki on Jan. 26, 2006, during my incumbency as chief justice. Thus, I felt it my duty to express my thanks to the institutions and officials who made this donation possible. Significantly, the money was given via a short, straight-forward letter-without any conditions, timetables or requirements to hire Japanese architects, contractors or technical consultants. Parenthetically, all charges for our trip were borne by me personally, at no expense to the Philippine and Japanese governments.

Neither our Supreme Court nor the Japanese government asked me to undertake this visit. But precisely because of the implicit trust accompanying the unconditional facility, I felt all the more compelled to reassure our benefactors that the project was well on its way. I gave the Japanese officials copies of the floor plans and perspectives of the Center and informed them of the Philja’s determination to complete the project as soon as practicable.

I went a little further than merely thanking them. I inquired about the Japanese system of admission to the bar and to the judiciary, as well as the curriculum of the Japanese Judicial Institute. Chief Justice Shimada and retired Prosecutor-General Akio Harada, who hosted us for dinner, said that legal education in Japan has recently been reformed such that, now, about 50 percent pass the bar examinations. In the past, only about 2 to 3 percent did.

However, after hurdling the exams, the bar examinees still need to study for about one and a half years to specialize in one of three fields: the judiciary, the prosecutorial service, or private law practice. Thereafter, they are required to pass a final examination to begin their distinct professions as judges, prosecutors or private practitioners.

Like in other progressive judicial regimes, Japanese judges need to be constantly updated by their Supreme Court through their own judicial school. Thus, subject to confirmation by our Supreme Court, I proposed a Judicial Cooperation Agreement between the Philippines and Japan, like the ones we have concluded with Spain, Canada and the United States.

It is good to be the recipient of a financial grant to build our Academy’s physical facilities, but it is equally advantageous to have an exchange program to buttress the intellectual and ethical standards of the Philja. After all, judges from many countries like Nepal, Vietnam and Cambodia have been sent here to study our judicial systems.

Long-gestating dream. The Supreme Court has long wanted to establish a judicial school to train lawyers to be good magistrates and to educate incumbents to become better judges. This dream had an early breakthrough on July 19, 1995 when then President Fidel V. Ramos turned over to the Supreme Court 51 percent of a government-sequestered corporation that owned a 3.3 hectare property in Tagaytay. The donation was initiated by then Presidential Legal Counsel (now Supreme Court Justice) Antonio T. Carpio.

Slowly, the private shareholders followed suit and donated their respective stocks. Now, the Court controls almost all of the issued shares. Since then, Philja, under its venerable Chancellor Ameurfina A. Melencio-Herrera, had been conducting short courses in the meager facilities available. The Court has long asked Congress and the President for funds to build decent classrooms, conference rooms, dining lounges and boarding facilities, to no avail.

With no government funds forthcoming, then Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide Jr. decided to seek external financial assistance. The foreign funders took sometime. But finally the Japanese government, through the persistence of Ambassador Yamazaki and with the approval of Minister Asano, his immediate superior, responded with the P300-million unconditional assistance.

Acknowledgments. For helping me succeed in this mission, may I publicly thank Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto J. Romulo, Ambassador Victor G. Garcia III (the foreign affairs legal honcho), Philippine Ambassador to Japan Domingo L. Siazon Jr. and his gracious wife Kay, and Philippine Consul General to Osaka Maria Lourdes Ramiro Lopez, and their respective staffs.

I am also sincerely grateful to Ms Nori Yamazaki, Ambassador Yamazaki’s charming wife, for personally touring us around little known but interesting spots in Tokyo. She also brought us to Holy Mass at the St. Ignatius Church in the Sophia University. But the highlight of our Tokyo roaming was the sumptuous lunch she herself prepared at their home in Shibuya; a rare treat, indeed.

With the money already in the Court’s bank account and with plans almost complete, the construction and equipping of the Philja Development Center are expected to be finished in about two years. Soon, the collective vision of the judiciary for the Philja Development Center will be a reality. The common dream is coming true.

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