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People Power 2 ousts Erap
Former Defense chief Renato de Villa introduces military and police 'defectors'

MANILA, Philippines, Jan. 19, 2001 — Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos from all walks of life and political color trooped to EDSA today to support People Power 2 and in anticipation of President Estrada's quick resignation.

The mass resignation and allegiance-switching of Estrada aides, the military and police today galvanized the President's fate as he is left with virtually no government to head. As of this writing, representatives from the United Opposition are discussing a possible peaceful transition and hand-over of the reins of government to Vice-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, his constitutional successor.


FEBRUARY 9, 2001 VOL.27 NO.5

Justice for the Philippines
The trial and triumph of Chief Justice Davide

Edwin Tuyay for Asiaweek.
"The welfare and will of the people is the supreme law" -- Hilario Davide.

On Saturday, January 20, Hilario Davide woke up at half past three in the morning, as usual. The chief justice of the Philippine Supreme Court opened the Bible to a random page and read. It was the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 32: "People of Jerusalem, go out of the city. / And build a road for your returning people! / Prepare the highway; clear it of stones! / Put up a signal so that the nations can know . . . / That the Lord is coming to save you." To Davide the message was clear: he must help rebuild the Philippines.

By 9:30, Davide had assembled in his office 11 of 14 other top justices and got their votes, as well as those of the three absentees, for him to swear in Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as the new president, replacing Joseph Estrada. "The chief justice believed he should act to avert bloodshed and a power vacuum," says fellow Supreme Court justice Artemio Panganiban. "The country had no leader. The military and his cabinet had withdrawn their support from Estrada. If Gloria Macapagal Arroyo acted as president, by what authority {would she act}? It would have been an invitation to a coup."

No such thing happened, thanks to Davide's quick thinking. At around noon he administered the oath of office to Arroyo at the People Power shrine on EDSA. With no constitutional provision for the Supreme Court to declare the presidency vacant, Davide invoked a time-honored principle: "The welfare and will of the people is the supreme law." Arthur Lim, president of the Integrated Bar, the nation's organization of 45,000 lawyers, says it was the first time the Supreme Court ruled partly for fear of violence. Former chief justice Enrique Fernando supports the ruling. "It's the law of necessity," he says. "It's a situation only the court could settle."

Thus, the act that culminated People Power 2 also confirmed Chief Justice Davide as the man of that moment, not only for devising a peaceful way out of the nation's leadership crisis, but also for expertly and fairly handling the 23-day Estrada impeachment trial. His integrity, impartiality and intelligence were instrumental in winning the public's trust in the nationally broadcast Senate hearings. When senators pre-empted Davide and voted 11-10 to suppress evidence deemed crucial by the prosecution, millions of Filipinos following the trial on TV and radio felt robbed of a real chance for truth and justice.

Now, as the Philippines seeks to rebuild public trust in national institutions and investor confidence in the rule of law and democracy, decisive and determined reformers like Davide are indispensable. Those familiar with his record would not have been surprised by his recent performance. Chosen by Estrada in late 1998 over a candidate pushed by the president's lawyer-brother, Davide has done much to restore trust in the courts. "Pursuit of excellence is one of the driving forces for the comprehensive and far-reaching judicial reform recently approved by the Supreme Court en banc," he told Asiaweek.

Among the measures Davide has taken: sending judges, court staff and lawyers to the Supreme Court's Philippine Judicial Academy; placing limits on court pleadings and extensions; dismissing more than 30 judges with questionable records; and aiming to clear the backlog of cases before his own high court by June 11, the judiciary's centennial. Lower courts have also been urged to set similar deadlines. In addition, the chief justice has encouraged courts to use new technology, under a World Bank-funded program. The task, however, is gargantuan. Some 825,000 cases are pending nationwide, and 435,000 are filed every year - nearly 150,000 more than the number decided.

Thankfully, Davide has a tremendous capacity for work and dedication to competence and justice. Not a smoker, a drinker or a gambler, the top magistrate is often in the office before 6. a.m. and leaves no earlier than 7 p.m., taking work home. He insists on strict working hours - 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a lunch hour at noon. Senior judges have to work on Saturday mornings until 1 p.m. Economist Bernardo Villegas recounts his time with Davide in the 1986 commission that drafted the Constitution: "He read every piece of paper presented and examined very carefully every issue - up to 2:30 in the morning." Villegas adds: "He is the most honest man I know."

Of Davide's legal mind, justice Panganiban says: "He writes exhaustively, patiently explaining the details of each case, stating all arguments of the parties, and then discussing each question or issue raised. He rules clearly and firmly, leaving no doubt or residue." Panganiban once differed with Davide on the latter's concept of "insufficient law." Also in the 1971 constitutional convention, Davide argued that provisions for popular initiatives to change the Constitution were inadequate, thwarting amendment and re-election plans by then president Fidel Ramos.

This time, however, Davide decided that the people's will and welfare required a judicial way to remove Estrada after the impeachment trial failed. Born and raised in the countryside, walking barefoot to school and putting himself through law college, Davide says he has always been "inspired by a feeling" for the masses. As a lawyer, 60% of his cases were pro bono, and he could barely support his family of six. Hence, when history beckoned, Davide cut through the legal thicket to move the nation forward. And should anyone take issue with his view, he has the moral standing to declare: "Objection overruled."