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With Due Respect

The global Aristotelian jurist

Last July 19, at the chancery of the Philippine Embassy in The Hague in The Netherlands, our government honored three outstanding Filipino jurists for their exemplary membership in international tribunals recognized by the United Nations (UN): the late Chief Justice Cesar Bengzon (International Court of Justice or ICJ), former Inquirer publisher Raul C. Pangalangan (International Criminal Court) and the late Senior Associate Justice Florentino P. Feliciano (Appellate Body, World Trade Organization or ABW).

DELIVERING THE KEYNOTE SPEECHES were ICJ Vice President Kirill Gevorgian (of Russia), CJ Alexander G. Gesmundo, and ICJ Judge Iwasawa Yuji (of Japan) who, by the way, was nominated to the ICJ by the Philippine National Group (PNG) in the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague composed of retired CJ Reynato S. Puno, Justice Jose C. Vitug, Judge Pangalangan, and yours truly as PNG chair. The UN Charter granted members of the PCA the right to nominate ICJ judges.

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As an additional tribute, our Supreme Court published a book containing a collection of the decisions and resolutions of Justice Toy Feliciano while he was a member of our Court from Aug. 8, 1986 to Dec. 13, 1995. I was given the honor of writing the Foreword which is six times the length of this column but which I will try to summarize now.

Justice Toy was a world-class scholar and jurist. From his school days, he has set scholastic records, finishing his Bachelor of Arts, summa cum laude, and his Bachelor of Laws, magna cum laude, at the University of the Philippines. Thereafter, he proceeded to Yale for his master’s and doctoral law degrees. He taught at UP, Yale, and The Hague Academy of International Law. He joined the SyCip Salazar Hernandez & Gatmaitan Law Office where he became managing partner before joining the Supreme Court in 1986.

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WHEN I ENTERED THE COURT IN 1995, he was already the senior associate justice and chairman of the Third Division. He was our source of enlightenment for difficult issues of law when differentiations made little difference and when real differences were always bridged by him. In awe of his intellect and his logic, we were always careful not to pick an intellectual duel with him or otherwise risk being in the short end of the argument.

In 1995, I was truly a Court neophyte in every sense of the word without any background in decision-making, in comportment as a judge, and in relating to my more experienced fellow justices. Having been a neophyte himself without any judicial experience, Justice Toy understood my poor plight. He was very sympathetic and patient in dealing with me.

He retired early from our Court to accept his election as a member, later as chair, of the ABW, an honor that he alone holds in our country. Though in my humble opinion, he merited a seat in the ICJ, he was nonetheless at home in the ABW because it suited the best of his expertise in commercial law and international law. Indeed, he was in his element there. A distinguished American two-term colleague of his in the ABW, James Bacchus, called him “The Aristotelian” because of his mastery of, and adherence to, reason and logic as the torch of wisdom and discoverer of truth. Indeed, he “was (their) great teacher.”

HIS ZEAL TO TEACH THE ARISTOTELIAN WAY IN THE ABW, I think, was a reflection of his equal zeal to open the eyes of his colleagues in our Supreme Court to pure logic and unadulterated reason to decide cases fairly and objectively, almost stoically, with only the Constitution, laws, and precedents as guides and masters.

The respected Professor W. Michael Reisman of the Yale Law School described him felicitously as “a towering scholar in international law … an outstanding teacher, practitioner, diplomat, citizen of his country, region and the world and, above all, a judge … in the great tradition of Holmes, Cardozo, and others…”

To say that he is a towering scholar in international law is one thing, but to place him in the august company of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Benjamin Cardozo—revered icons of American jurisprudence—is quite another and could be mistaken as plain braggadocio. Except that Reisman is not known to exaggerate; quite the contrary, he is reputed to be conservative with his language and timid with his praises.

My own law dean, law office boss, and lifelong guru in the pursuit of a life worth living (not merely of a life in law), Dr. Jovito R. Salonga—who finished his doctorate at Yale after his master of laws at Harvard—was also in full praise, “Toy is one of the finest alumni of Yale not just among Filipinos but amongst all students including Americans.”

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Had he stayed on the Court, he could have been chief justice but he chose to spend his remaining years of intellectual statesmanship in an international tribunal where his legal expertise in international law and commercial law were put to more productive use. Hence, I choose to call him “The Global Aristotelian Jurist.”

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