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Get Real
Living up to UP’s motto

By Solita Collas-Monsod
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:48:00 08/30/2008

Filed Under: Schools, Judiciary (system of justice), Graft & Corruption

MANILA, Philippines?The motto of the University of the Philippines (UP) is ?Honor and Excellence.? Judging from the premier position it holds among Philippine universities in various published international rankings?not to mention that its graduates regularly top professional examinations (medicine, law, engineering, accounting, etc.), and that the great majority of all national artists and practically all national scientists are its products?it is safe to say that the ?Excellence? part of the motto has been lived up to.

It is often taken for granted that once excellence is achieved, honor follows. Thus, excellence is what is focused on, to the extent that dishonorable means are sometimes used to achieve it. (?The end justifies the means.?) The initial success in achieving ?excellence? by dishonorable means leads to the continued use of such means. UP School of Economics Dean Emmanuel de Dios points out that if we browse through the pages of this country?s history, we will ?unfortunately find it replete with UP graduates who were excellent but were not honorable and who have wrought lasting damage to our nation and institutions.?

His bottom line is that honor and excellence are distinct, and that those who conceived the ideals of the university were truly wise when they did not reduce its ideal to ?Excellence above all,? or to ?Honor through Excellence,? or even ?Excellence and Honor.? Rather, he emphasizes, they placed honor before excellence?the first being more important than the second. And we ignore that ?lexicographic ordering? only at our peril.

And yes, UP has produced thousands of men and women who may not have been outstanding in the academic sense but have made lasting contributions to the country and their families?men and women of honor. And yes, it has produced as well those who are both honorable and excellent. Unfortunately, public attention gets focused on the allegedly dishonorable, whether excellent or mediocre.

For example, the investigation of Court of Appeals justices (actually only two) has made the already unsavory reputation of that court (for selling temporary restraining orders and court decisions) even more unsavory. One is a UP alumnus, the other is from Ateneo de Manila University. As I noted in last week?s column, the good apples in the Court of Appeals barrel are being pictured as also rotten.

In an attempt to find out how many good apples there really are in that particular barrel, I asked around. The method by no means qualifies even as an informal survey, but I do consider my sources unimpeachable. What I found was that of the 51 members of the appeals court who are assigned in Metro Manila, 27 definitely have a reputation for neither asking for bribes nor accepting bribe offers; and 24 definitely are reputed to be rotten apples. Of the 27 with clean hands, 10 are from UP, five men and five women. Of the 24 who are considered rotten apples, three are from UP (two men and a woman).

So you have a half-empty-half-full-glass situation here. The half-full perspective would be that more than half of the Court of Appeals justices are good apples; the half-empty perspective would be that almost half are rotten. Take your pick. I frankly was pleasantly surprised to find out that there are that many good apples, considering how badly tarnished the Court of Appeals? image is.

The good news (for those who hold UP dear) is that most of the UP alumni in the Court of Appeals are good apples (10 out of 13). The bad news is that the majority of the Court of Appeals justices do not seem to come from UP (as is the case in the Supreme Court)?which may mean either that the honorable and excellent of UP are loathe to leave the private sector, or that the honorable and excellent have a difficult time getting appointed to that court?connections count for more virtues.

Crude calculations. Which is why it is high time that the Supreme Court commissioned a study to determine the extent of judicial corruption. In the meantime, knowing the problem is half of the solution, one can derive comfort from anecdotal evidence that there are (still) some incorruptible judges.

I have a favorite anecdote about it?and the reader will soon know why. It involves Regional Trial Court Judge Abraham Borreta (Branch 154, Pasig City) who apparently told the accused in open court to cease and desist from sending emissaries with bribe offers in exchange for being granted bail, or for favorable dispensation of his case, because it would be judged solely on its merits.

What is impressive is that Borreta apparently told the various emissaries immediately (including friends and acquaintances who were approached) to back off?unlike the situation involving the Court of Appeals justices. Borreta, I am told, always keeps his office door open?nothing goes on behind closed doors. But the kicker has to do with the amount of the bribes being offered (just for bail, mind you): It went up to P20 million, and finally a ?name your price? situation. By the way, P20 million, represents more than 20 times a judge?s gross annual income (salary and perks), and for that matter, even that of a Court of Appeals justice. I am told that the accused in the case was so impressed (he apparently had pretty much everyone in his pocket), so that even though the decision went against him (bail was denied), he saluted Borreta when he was being led out.

Borreta is UP ?73. Valedictorian and bar topnotcher. He left a lucrative private practice for a career in the judiciary. He may have his faults, but apparently he cannot be bribed. Fight on, UP.

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