- As a member of President Corazon Aquino’s Constitutional Commission following the People Power Revolution of 1986, Davide was principal author of articles governing the legislature in the new law of the land. He also advocated this path breaking provision: “The State shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.”
- Appointed to the Supreme Court in 1991, Davide made his mark as a hardworking jurist noted for meticulously argued opinions and a strict interpretation of the law. He wrote decisions strengthening the hand of the State against violators of the Philippine environment.
- Appointed Chief Justice in 1998 by President Joseph Estrada, Davide pledged to strengthen and reform the country’s judiciary. He strove to insulate the appointment of judges from political favor and to raise standards for recruitment and performance. And he continued to foster a preferential option for the environment.
- The RMAF board of trustees recognizes his life of principled citizenship in profound service to democracy and the rule of law in the Philippines.
Partisan politics is the public face of democracy, the most visible manifestation of political liberty. It thrives in the Philippines. Yet in the Philippines and everywhere else, as we know, the liberty of partisan politics depends ultimately upon restraints imposed by law and by the authority of governing institutions. Few people understand this paradox of freedom better than Hilario G. Davide Jr., chief justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines.
The child of a mountain barrio in Cebu Province, Davide walked barefoot to school as a boy and worked his way through the University of the Philippines, passing the bar in 1959. He embarked upon a career in the law and, at thirty-seven, represented Cebu as a delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention. Shocked by martial law, he mobilized fellow Visayans to challenge the dictatorship. In 1978, his opposition party gained a small foothold in the Marcos-dominated Interim Batasang Pambansa, where Assemblyman Davide called for an end to martial law and sponsored bills opposing corruption and promoting electoral reforms.
As a member of President Corazon Aquino’s Constitutional Commission following the People Power Revolution of 1986, Davide authored the articles governing the legislature in the new law of the land and also added this pathbreaking provision: “The State shall protect and advance the right of people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.” Davide then restored confidence in the electoral process as head of the Commission on Elections and, subsequently, led an exhaustive formal investigation into eight military-led attempts to overthrow the Aquino government.
Appointed to the Supreme Court in 1991, Davide made his mark as a hardworking jurist noted for meticulously argued opinions and a strict interpretation of the law. He wrote decisions strengthening the hand of the state against violators of the Philippine environment and, in one landmark case, asserted the right of children to sue for a healthy habitat both for themselves and for “generations yet unborn” – a decision that helped to save 800,000 hectares of the country’s virgin rain forest.
Appointed chief justice in 1998 by President Joseph Estrada, Davide pledged to strengthen and reform the country’s judiciary. He strove to isolate the appointment of judges from political favor and to raise standards for recruitment and performance. He disciplined erring judges and hastened the judicial process with advances in efficiency and time-saving alternatives such as mediation. And he continued to foster a preferential option for the environment. In all he did, Davide emphasized transparency and integrity and, in doing so, he enhanced the authority of the Court as the country’s ultimate arbiter of justice.
The collapse of the Estrada presidency put this authority to the test. As presiding judge in the impeachment trial, Davide personified the dignity and impartiality of the constitution itself. And when the power struggle reached its climax and spilled into the streets, his timely intervention on behalf of “the welfare and will of the people” averted violence and brought the crisis to an end. The moral authority of the Supreme Court carried the day. But Davide’s own reputation for integrity and independence also weighed heavily in legitimating the unprecedented transfer of power to a new president.
Sixty-six-year-old Davide is known to lead by example, keeping up earnestly with his own heavy workload and living modestly. Looking ahead, he says he will “leave politics to the politicians” and devote himself to judicial reform. About this work, his feelings run deep. As he says, “Administering justice is a sacramental task.”
In electing HILARIO G. DAVIDE, JR.to receive the 2002 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the board of trustees recognizes his life of principled citizenship in profound service to democracy and the rule of law in the Philippines.
Your Excellency, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo; former President Aquino; Senator Magsaysay; Chairman Zobel de Ayala; and the Trustees and officers of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation; Mr. Heintz of Rockefeller Brothers Fund; my fellow awardees; my colleagues in the Supreme Court; fellow public servants; and guests:
I am honored to accept from the Foundation the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service for the year 2002. I accept this award less for myself, and more for the millions of other public servants in Asia who toil selflessly for their fellowmen and their country to make Asia “a better plance”, without contemplation of a reward. I hope it will inspire them to persevere with their dedication, and encourage others to emulate them.
The fate of a nation hinges on every action taken by each public servant. The Philippine Constitution declares that a public office is a public trust and requires all public servants to serve with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency. This means unqualified sacrifice and a commitment to give only the best. Government service is therefore a life of selfless oblation.
By God’s grace I had been guided by two dedicated public servants – Papa and Mama – who served the people as educators, perhaps the noblest of all modes of public service. They brought me up in the countryside, upon earth that demanded much labor. Ours was a very difficult life; and in the midst of difficulties, we in the family loved each other even more and learned to work, give and share, and aspire for nobler things. That upbringing has served me well as a public servant.
It has been a tremendous privilege for me to serve the people in various capacities in the past, and now through the Judiciary. The responsibility was not a choice I pursued, but one that I was nevertheless honored to assume. Thus, I have welcomed every public duty with passion for excellence and a commitment to apply only the best of my abilities to it. The people deserve nothing less.
Words are not enough to express my appreciation and gratitude to the Foundation and its officers and trustees for this award. This is doubtless the most profound honor I have received. Yet it imposes an equally profound duty: to do more for the people, above and beyond the call of duty with boundless devotion and love. In this way I would also perpetuate the memory of the man in whose honor the award is named after – President Ramon Magsaysay – whose 95th birthday anniversary we celebrate today, and whose family I now greet.
May I also take this opportunity to thank the men and women whom I have been blessed to work with – my fellow Justices and magistrates in the Judiciary, all court personnel and civil servants whose labors made mine a little less burdensome.
I thank my beloved wife, Gigi, and the members of my family, who have shared with me the costs and consequences of government service, and for which sacrifice they returned only encouragement and inspiration no sum can measure. I thank my parents, who instilled in me the values and principles I have lived to make me worthy of the award.
Lastly, I offer this honor to God, in tribute for all the blessings He has showered on me and my family, through times trying and otherwise. To Him, indeed, belongs the glory.
More power to the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation.
The morning started like any other in the life of Hilario G. Davide Jr. On that November day in 1998, he read the Bible, as was his daily habit. The holy book flipped open on Maccabees 10:2: “Now Maccabeus and his company, the Lord guiding them, recovered the temple and the city. But the altars which the heathen had built in the open street, and also the chapels, they pulled down.” Later that day, Davide sat beside President Joseph Estrada at a ceremony honoring the nineteenth-century Filipino revolutionary Andres Bonifacio. The post of chief justice of the Supreme Court had fallen vacant the night before, when the incumbent turned seventy years old. As senior associate justice, Davide was first in line for the job, but some of the president’s political allies were backing other candidates. So it was a big surprise when Estrada suddenly informed Davide that he was appointing him chief justice. He administered the oath of office then and there, making Davide—the son of rural teachers from the central Philippines—the country’s twentieth chief justice.
It is a measure of the man that he saw the hand of God in his appointment. “The following day,” he recalls, “when Mrs. Davide and I attended mass [in thanksgiving], the responsorial psalm was ‘Justice and peace shall flourish. It is time.’” Maccabees 10:2 flashed through his mind. “Probably God had a mission for me: I have to restore the Temple of Justice. This was the biblical foundation for all my efforts at restructuring the judiciary.” During his watch, the pace of disciplining errant judges and court personnel was accelerated; one justice of the Court of Appeals was even dismissed. But the renewed respect for the Supreme Court in the Philippines during his tenure can also be ascribed to Davide’s probity, fairness, and activism. In 2000, he presided over President Estrada’s impeachment trial with an impartiality that impressed presidential friends and foes alike. And when the Estrada government collapsed in January 2001, the timely intervention of Davide’s Supreme Court helped in the peaceful transfer of power to Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the constitutional successor.
Born on December 20, 1935, Davide spent his early years in the village of Colawin in the municipality of Argao in Cebu Province, an island in the central Philippines about four hundred kilometers from Manila. It was a bucolic time for the young boy. He grew up surrounded by trees, hills, and a meandering river, inspiring a love of nature that would later inform his proactive rulings on the environment as a Supreme Court justice. Colawin was inaccessible to any motorized transport. Davide walked barefoot up and down mountain trails and crossed the river in eleven places to get to the población, the town proper of Argao, where he stayed five days a week to attend school. “Every Friday afternoon we had to be absent from our classes because we had to walk for about three to four hours [to return to Colawin],” he remembers. “We walked very fast because our feet had already developed very thick calluses, so much better than a pair of shoes.”
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