Sunday, August 07, 2005

Case Closed

Separate Opinion : The Evelio Javier case

Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

THE CURRENT controversy over the Garci tapes reminds me of the case of Evelio Javier vs. Commission on Elections, 144 SCRA 194, which was raffled to me shortly after the reorganization of the Supreme Court in 1986. The petitioner had complained of irregularities committed in the election for the Batasang Pambansa in Antique, but the case was intentionally ignored during martial law and was still undecided after Edsa I.

The records showed that Javier had failed to prevent the proclamation of the KBL candidate, Arturo Pacificador, and had gone to the Supreme Court for relief. While his petition was pending, Javier and some of his supporters were murdered in cold blood and in broad daylight. After studying the case, I recommended its dismissal, but Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee felt that the new Supreme Court should make a statement.

And so I wrote the decision on the merits, excerpts of which follow:

"The new Solicitor General has moved to dismiss this petition on the ground that as a result of supervening events it has become moot and academic. It is not as simple as that. Several lives have been lost in connection with this case, including that of the petitioner himself. The private respondent is now in hiding. The purity of suffrage has been defiled and the popular will scorned through a confabulation of those in authority. This Court cannot keep silent in the face of these terrible facts. The motion is denied.

"The abolition of the Batasang Pambansa and the disappearance of the office in dispute between the petitioner and the private respondent-both of whom have gone their separate ways-could be a convenient justification for dismissing this case. But there are larger issues that must be resolved now. The more important purpose is to manifest in the clearest possible terms that this Court will not disregard and in effect condone wrong on the simplistic and tolerant pretext that the case has become moot and academic.

"The Supreme Court is not only the highest arbiter of legal questions but also the conscience of the government. The citizen comes to us in quest of law but we must also give him justice. The two are not always the same. There are times when we cannot grant the latter because the issue has been settled and decision is no longer possible according to the law. But there are also times when although the dispute has disappeared, as in this case, it nevertheless cries out to be resolved. Justice demands that we act then, not only for the vindication of the outraged right, though gone, but also for the guidance of and as a restraint upon the future."

"Since this case began in 1984, many significant developments have taken place, not the least of which was the February revolution of 'people power' that dislodged the past regime and ended well nigh fourteen years of travail for this captive nation. The petitioner is gone, felled by a hail of bullets sprayed with deadly purpose by assassins whose motive is yet to be disclosed. The private respondent has disappeared with the 'pomp of power' he had before enjoyed. Even the Batasang Pambansa itself has been abolished, an 'iniquitous vestige of the previous regime' discontinued by the Freedom Constitution. It is so easy now, as has been suggested not without reason, to send the records of this case to the archives and say the case is finished and the book is closed.

"But not yet.

"Let us first say these meager words in tribute to a fallen hero who was struck down in the vigor of his youth because he dared to speak against tyranny. Where many kept a meekly silence for fear of retaliation, and still others feigned and fawned in hopes of safety and even reward, he was not afraid. Money did not tempt him. Threats did not daunt him. His was a singular and all-exacting obsession: the return of freedom to his country. And though he fought not in the barricades of war amid the sound and smoke of shot and shell, he was a soldier nonetheless, fighting valiantly for the freedom of his people, against the enemies of his race, unfortunately of his race too, who would impose upon the land a perpetual night of dark enslavement. He did not see the breaking of the dawn, sad to say, but in a very real sense Evelio B. Javier made that dawn draw nearer because he was, like Saul and Jonathan, 'swifter than eagles and stronger than lions.'

"... a new government has taken over in the wake of the February revolution. The despot has escaped and, with him, let us pray, all the oppressions and repressions of the past have also been banished forever. A new spirit is now upon our land. A new vision limns the horizon. Now we can look forward with new hope that under the Constitution of the future every Filipino shall be truly sovereign in his own country, able to express his will through the pristine ballot with only his conscience as his counsel.

"This is not an impossible dream. Indeed, it is an approachable goal. It can and will be won if we are able at last, after our long ordeal, to say never again to tyranny. If we can do this with courage and conviction, then and only then, and not until then, can we truly say that the case is finished and the book is closed."