Changing tires for a new journey
Up till the morning of his retirement on Aug. 7, Justice Presbitero J. Velasco Jr. was still assiduously working, fighting for and winning the promulgation by the Supreme Court of his latest pet project, the “Rule on Precautionary Departure Order (PDO).”
By way of background, in Genuino vs De Lima (April 17, 2018, penned by Justice Andres B. Reyes Jr.), the Court unanimously prohibited the Department of Justice (DOJ) from issuing “hold departure orders” and “watch list orders.” Reason: DOJ’s utter lack of legal authority.
With the active assistance of Justices Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe and Alexander G. Gesmundo, Velasco convinced the Court that the lacuna created by this decision would enable crime suspects to evade arrest and escape the clutches of the law by hiding abroad.
To prevent this rank injustice, Regional Trial Courts (not the DOJ) should be allowed to issue PDOs directing the Bureau of Immigration to bar the suspects from leaving, upon the ex-parte (without notice to the suspects) application of public prosecutors showing “probable cause” in a crime punishable by imprisonment of at least six years and one day.
This ethic of hard work characterized Velasco’s 12-year stint in the high court, enabling him to write more than 1,000 full length ponencias, plus several thousand minute resolutions, thereby completely clearing his docket with no backlog for his successor, Justice Jose C. Reyes Jr., a known exemplar of the constitutional ideal of “proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence.”
Of these over 1,000 decisions, Acting Chief Justice Antonio T. Carpio, during his speech at Velasco’s retirement ceremonies on Aug. 7, singled out MMDA vs Concerned Citizens of Manila Bay (Dec. 18, 2008) as probably the most far-reaching.
Here, the Court unanimously upheld the people’s constitutional right to a balanced and healthy ecology and directed various government agencies to continuously clean, maintain and preserve for future generations the 1,800-square-kilometer Manila Bay.
In that case, Velasco initiated the novel concept of “continuing mandamus” to ensure the complete implementation of the judgment by requiring the periodic submission of compliance reports on how the bay is being cleaned and preserved. The decision led to the issuance by the Court on April 10, 2010, of the new “Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases,” outlining how a continuing mandamus could easily be obtained.
His other significant decisions include (1) Cocofed vs Republic (Jan. 24, 2012), which returned the coco levy funds amounting to P70 billion to the national treasury to be used for the benefit of the coconut farmers and the coconut industry;
(2) Roque vs Comelec (Sept. 10, 2009), which dismissed various petitions questioning the automation contracts entered into by the Commission on Elections and authorizing the holding of the first automated national elections; and
(3) Hacienda Luisita vs PARC (July 5, 2011), which ended “eons of row over some 4,915 hectares of land,” declared Hacienda Luisita’s 30-year stock distribution plan disadvantageous to the 6,296 farmer-beneficiaries, and ordered instead the award of the physical land to them.
His vote on decisions with political undertones, like the burial of President Ferdinand Marcos’ remains in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, the constitutionality of martial law in Mindanao, and the ouster of CJ Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno, drew mixed reactions, validating the truism that justices cannot please everyone. Truly, every litigation has at least two sides, and only one side can win.
In his speech during his retirement ceremonies, Velasco paid special tribute to his supportive family, led by his wife Lorna, a former member of Congress and now the incumbent mayor of Torrijos, Marinduque; his son, Lord Allan Jay, the incumbent congressman of Marinduque; his daughter Tricia Nicole, a party-list representative; and another equally accomplished son, Michael.
Though he bade adieu, this patriarch of a politically entrenched family did not say farewell, given that, to him, at a healthy 70, retiring really means changing tires to prepare for a new journey. I am sure our people, especially those from Marinduque, can look forward to longer service from him in another capacity.
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