Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno: A True Jurist; (Delivered during the Testimonial Dinner in Honor of Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno Sponsored by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines on Jan. 9, 2007, at the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel, Ortigas Center in Pasig City. Atty. Santiago, Daughter of Supreme Court Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Is Completing Her Master of Laws in International Legal Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., USA.)

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Byline: Atty. PURA ANGELICA Y. SANTIAGO Former Governor, Southern Luzon Integrated Bar of the Philippines

I WAS in the United States when the news broke that our Guest of Honor was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. I actually heard the news from a colleague who is now based in Los Angeles and before I could respond, I received a barrage of text messages from various other sources both from the Philippines and from other Filipinos in other parts of the United States confirming the happy news. I say happy because the text messages I got invariably had exclamations of "Yehey!" and "Hooray!" Indeed, his appointment was met with jubilation and a sense of hope and expectation that his term as Chief Justice will mark an important chapter in the history of our Supreme Court. That I was out of the country at that time is a circumstance that I attribute to our Guest of Honor but that is getting ahead of my story.

When President Jovy Salazar told me that the IBP was going to host a testimonial dinner in honor of our new Chief Justice, I was very glad to know that it would be held tonight because had it been held a few days later, I would have missed it. When Jovy further asked if I could be one of those who would pay tribute to the Chief Justice -- I readily said yes not realizing what a daunting task I faced. I had been agonizing for about a week now on what I was going to say knowing it was going to be before the Chief Justice himself, the members of his court (including my mother who is my number one supporter but also my harshest critic), and an audience composed of distinguished members of the bench and bar. Truthfully, I was intimidated by my subject and who would not be? As Justice Ameurfina Melencio-Herrera has said: "It is very difficult, if not impossible, to take the full measure of our Honoree, considering his depth and intellect..." Even a cursory reading of his Curriculum Vitae would show that he was really destined for greater things. I have another confession to make, I only began writing last night -- and after I decided that there was no other way to approach this except from the heart -- the rest was easy...

I first heard of the name "Rey Puno" from my parents. This was at or about the time when he was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 1980, when he was only forty years old, the youngest to be appointed to that position. Being both members of the now famous UP Law Class of 1962, my parents often spoke about their classmates -- be it about who was doing what, the proverbial amusing anecdote about another or simple chitchat about bumping into a classmate at a restaurant or some function or gathering. When they mentioned their classmate, Rey Puno, however, I recall that it was always about how introspective, quiet and serious he was -- and how he often kept to himself even as a student. They also spoke about his excellent writing skills, honed no doubt during his years as Editor in Chief of the Philippine Collegian, Recent Documents Editor of the Philippine Law Journal and Chairman of the Editorial Board of The Law Register.

Later on, as a neophyte lawyer in 1993, I heard that our Honoree was appointed to the Supreme Court. I also heard it said that since he was appointed at such a young age, only 53 at the time -- he was bound to be Chief Justice one day.

In the year 2000, I was privileged to be appointed by our Guest of Honor as a Member of the Committee on the Revision of the Rules of Court for Family Courts. Indeed, it was an honor for me to be part of what is regarded as a premier committee which he chaired and which was composed of well-known and distinguished members of the bench and the academe. Initially, the committee met twice a week since our Honoree was very concerned about releasing the rules which he felt the Family Courts badly needed in order to aid litigants in the pursuit of their various causes of action.

These regular meetings for the past five (5) years gave me an insight about the kind of man our guest of honor really was and made me think early on that, not only did he deserve to lead the highest court of the land, he was really destined for it. …