SC: Write simply and clearly
With Due Respect

SC: Write simply and clearly

Recently issued, to my delight, is the 404-page “Supreme Court Stylebook” that replaced the old “Manual for Judicial Writing.” As aptly put by CJ Alexander G. Gesmundo in his “Message,” this volume “was impelled by the need for greater clarity, consistency, and uniformity so that litigants and the public in general will clearly understand court decisions … We commend Senior Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen and his team for coming up with a more comprehensive, modern, and responsive guide for judicial writing.”

SINCE MY COLLEGE DAYS, through my over 11 years in the Court, and even now as an Inquirer columnist, I have always advocated simplicity and clarity. As young lawyers, my co-counsel Antonio H. Abad Jr. and I won our first major case in the Supreme Court (Ermita-Malate Hotel v. City Mayor, July 31, 1967, per J, later CJ, Enrique Fernando, en banc). However, I must confess I did not immediately catch the rather complicated structure of, and the constitutional wisdom in, that landmark verdict. Thus, I continued my advocacy for simplicity and clarity. Later as a jurist, I authored an en banc decision (Velarde v. Social Justice Society, April 28, 2004) on how to write simple and clear decisions. And during my short stint in 1991-1992 as a part-time Inquirer president, I encouraged our then publisher Isagani Yambot (and Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo) to produce the Inquirer Stylebook.

Divided into 15 chapters with annexes, the SC Stylebook begins with a Foreword by SAJ Leonen who captivatingly wrote, “Words do have power. Used in the wrong ways, they can destroy and bury an entire segment of society. Used correctly, they can liberate and, sometimes, even heal.”

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Though addressed to lawyers, the first 10 chapters delve into fundamentals that even nonmembers of the bar can learn from. Example: The Stylebook says, “Make every word count” and then gives some examples, like “Before: May I respectfully suggest that the statement is not in accordance with the facts. After: The statement is not factual.”

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IN CHOOSING WORDS, the Stylebook says, “‘E.g.’ is the abbreviation for the Latin term exempli gratia, which means ‘by way of example.’ Use it when listing examples. ‘I.e.’ is the abbreviation for the Latin term id est, which means ‘that is.’ Use it when clarifying a statement or introducing an explanation or definition in other words.

“Always put a comma before and after ‘e.g.’ and ‘i.e.’ as both are considered interrupters. Do not italicize … Examples: The accused has a history of using dangerous drugs, e.g., marijuana. cocaine, shabu. The accused committed parricide, i.e., he killed his wife.”

On titles, the Stylebook says, “Capitalize titles when they directly precede proper names. When they are placed after proper names, use lower case as the title is only used to modify the name … Occupations, however, are written in lowercase before or after the name … Examples: President Rodrigo Duterte (not president Rodrigo Duterte.) But: Duterte, the Philippine president (not Duterte, the Philippine President.)”

Under the Inquirer Stylebook, however, the title of the current holder of an office is capitalized while that of past holders is written in lowercase. Example: “President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and president Rodrigo Duterte.” In fact, in the Inquirer, it is enough to use the surname only of the current holder, as in “President Marcos.” Moral lesson: Sometimes the stylebooks of different institutions differ in their presentations but please use them in their proper milieu, i.e., use the Inquirer Stylebook when writing for this paper, and use the SC Stylebook when writing for the courts.

CHAPTER 11 DIVES INTO HOW SUPREME COURT DECISIONS are to be structured, i.e., with case title, introduction or prologue, body, parties’ arguments, issues, discussion of each issue, and dispositive portion. Here, the Stylebook repeatedly cites the teachings of Velarde v. Social Justice Society with the admonition to avoid the “archaic … word WHEREFORE [that] must be changed to the plain word … ACCORDINGLY” or “FOR THESE REASONS.

Chapters 12 to 14 deal with the rules on citations contained mainly in the footnotes. Example: “Ernesto B. Francisco Jr. v. House of Representatives, 460 Phil. 830 (2003), per J. Carpio Morales, En Banc.” Note however, that when I cite a case in this column, I simply write a shortened version of the title together with only the date of promulgation, like “Francisco v. House, Nov. 10, 2003, per J Conchita Carpio Morales, en banc.” In this way, precious space is saved, and readers can easily google the original.

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Interesting, too, are the Stylebook’s provisions on how to cite jurisprudence here and abroad, and statutes, ordinances, court issuances, legislative journals, law reviews, articles, and even simple letters. The final chapter reproduces templates that readers, especially magistrates and lawyers, can copy and use.

I do not have the space to discuss more of this comprehensive manual, except to hail the Court and its members who labored to produce this truly commendable work to demystify the judiciary and keep it relevant in this age of artificial intelligence and the Swifties.

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