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September 16, 2013

Gone Too Soon: Atty. Frank Chavez 1947 – 2013

Editorial-Sep15

As a young activist just out of law school, he fought against the great Filipino dictator. As the Solicitor General in the post-dictatorship era, he fought to even the scales of justice and prevent the dictator’s family from returning to power. As a private lawyer, he fought against the president who was said to be worse than the great Filipino dictator – a little powerful lady president who was the head of a graft- and corruption-ridden government.

Who is – was – Frank Chavez?

TO THOSE WHO SUFFERED THE ABUSES OF THE MARCOS REGIME, Chavez was a brave warrior against the dictatorship, a defender of freedom and democracy.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, fellow lawyer and one of the members of the August 21 Movement formed shortly after the assassination of hero Ninoy Aquiono, acknowledged Chavez’ contribution to restoring democracy to the Philippines.

 

Philippine Star columnist Domini Torrevillas, when she openly rallied for Chavez to become the next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 2012 after the ouster of then Chief Justice Renato Corona, recalled:

Frank’s political activism was evident as a student demonstrator against the rule of Ferdinand Marcos and his wife. As First-Quarter Stormer, he joined the student mass action on Jan. 30, 1970, the First Battle of Mendiola Bridge. He was one of those manning the barricades when Metrocom soldiers stormed the University of the Philippines campus. His participation in numerous rallies notwithstanding, he finished the law course, cum laude, at the UP in 1971. Earlier, in 1967, he obtained a bachelor of science degree, cum laude from the West Negros College in Bacolod.

During the martial law years, he represented in court pro-bono more than 500 detainees who were haled to various courts on trumped-up charges of sedition, rebellion, inciting to sedition, etc. by the Marcos regime (September 1983 to March 1986). He handled press freedom, religious freedom and the Lino Brocka cases, plus the Escalante massacre case and “mistrial of the century case” in 1985, the ban-Marcos proclamation case in February 1986, and was a tireless, fearless street parliamentarian. These “fight for freedom and justice” involvements earned him the 1987 Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines (TOYM) award for law and human rights. But importantly, they convinced President Corazon C. Aquino to appoint him as the youngest Solicitor General, from 1987 to 1992. As SolGen, he worked for the winning of 74 of the 81 government/policy cases decided by the Philippine Supreme Court. At the end of his term, President Aquino thanked him “most sincerely for the services you have rendered to the Government as Solicitor General with unwavering courage and impeccable integrity.”

He is known for his anti-graft and corruption exposes, which resulted in a complete revamp of the PCGG; the PAL scam of P2.2 billion, resulting in the dismissal of top ranking PAL executives, and the cessation of the small town lottery system, among others. He exposed the “immoral, illegal and unconstitutional” secret agreements between the PCGG and the Marcoses, and exposed the existence of $13.2 billion (as of June 1998) found in account No. 885931 of the Union Bank of Switzerland maintained under the name of a Marcos daughter.

And even after Marcos’ ouster, as an ordinary citizen, he followed through on this fight. On February 25, 2011, in remembrance of the fateful EDSA revolution of which he took part in, he wrote to Vice President Jejomar Binay saying:

As an ordinary citizen, therefore, I most strongly and earnestly object to the proposal that Ferdinand Marcos’ corpse be interred at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani. Is history judging him now a hero? I shudder at the thought.

Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te noted the irony of the date of Chavez’ passing:

TO LATER GENERATIONS, he was one of the country’s finest graft and corruption busters who stood up against the Arroyo regime, emphasizing in a speech delivered before the National Union of People’s Lawyers, “What we’re seeing in today’s government is unparalleled corruption, even more input than (during the time of) Marcos. There’s major disregard of the law, and utter disrespect for the sentiments of the people.” He called a spade a spade and even if then Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo, took cheap shots at him as he questioned Marcelo’s defective charge filed against ex-AFP comptroller Carlos Garcia,  he combated blows with humor as he forged on to expose the anomalies of The Firm (of which Marcelo eventually became name partner), the most powerful law firm during the Arroyo administration.

TO HIS CLIENTS and observers of the Court, he was someone you could count on not only to defend your cause but to defend the side of the truth. Ramon Tulfo recalled in his column:

Chavez has made a niche for himself in the country’s legal profession for fighting many seemingly unwinnable court battles and winning in the end. …

 

In 1988, a Bataan judge sent me to jail for an item I wrote in this column about an unnamed judge who was corrupt. The judge felt alluded to, and tried to force me to reveal the source of my story but he didn’t succeed.

 

The late Tomas del Castillo, Inquirer lawyer, petitioned the Court of Appeals for my release. A hearing was set for my petition. Instead of defending the action of the judge, then Solicitor General Frank Chavez berated the judge before the appellate court for “abuse of authority.”

 

Because the solicitor general sided with me, the appellate court immediately ordered me released.

TO YOUNGER MEMBERS OF HIS FIRM, he was father and mentor. Atty. Andre de Jesus, former senior associate of Chavez, Miranda, Aseoche Law Offices, wrote this poignant tribute on his Facebook page:

It was in 2006, during my job interview, when I met Former Solicitor General Francisco “Frank” Chavez. Midway through that interview, I told him how honored I was to finally meet him. He quickly clarified, “Atty. de Jesus, all that flattery will not increase your chances of getting hired.”

 

In stark contrast to the management philosophy of my previous employer—who had a policy of micromanaging—Atty. Chavez granted professional autonomy to all lawyers in his firm. He respected his lawyers’ stylistic expressions and, more important, individuality in dealing with clients and maintaining cases. He put a premium on privacy—whereas junior associates of some large law firms were relegated to the indignity of a cubicle, I had my own room.

 

He gave me free rein in preparing for my first cross-examination in a criminal prosecution. I had just won a national debate championship before graduating from law school and I was passionate about writing. The cross-examination would be a walk in the park, I thought to myself.

 

Days after the hearing, I proudly handed to him the transcript of the cross-examination, which, out of arrogance or ignorance, or both, I felt I conducted successfully.

 

He handed back the transcript to me that same day, decorated with handwritten notes—scribbled with his favorite red pen—pointing out what I did wrong or what I could have done better. “You raised compound questions here.” “You gave the witness an opportunity to explain here.”

 

Atty. Chavez reminded me of my limitations—and frailties—as a young lawyer. But he sent the message that he was with me every step of the way. …

What I remember most about Atty. Chavez, however, is his humanity. Underneath his sharp suits was a man who loved life and knew how to laugh.

Ninong Frank, thank you for giving me the courage to fight for what is right. Thank you for honing me to become the lawyer I am now. … Thank you for being my second father. And thank you for making me a better man.

TO HIS PARTNERS AND FRIENDShe was a jolly good fellow. Atty. Carlo Ybañez, senior partner at CMALaw, recalls good times at their firm:

What most people don’t know about Atty. Frank Chavez is that, under that bad-ass litigator suit is a guy who also knows how to have fun. This was the our last trip in Osaka, Japan. Fun times.

Good times in Japan

Good times in Japan

He was also known to be as much of a sharp shooter on the field as he was in the court room.

And he was likewise a sharp shooter with the ladies, thanks to his enigmatic singing voice.


In His Own Words

A writer, Chavez always waxed poetic even as he fought the travesties of our history.

He was a man of honor. In accepting an award from the National Union of People’s Lawyers, he recalled the words of his father:

No matter the need, do not steal; no matter the reward, do not cheat; no matter the punishment, do not lie. Live an honorable life. Live by your code: death before dishonor.

He was also, to some extent, a realist. Clearly frustrated by the return of the Marcoses, he said:

It looks like we are a nation that cannot aspire to redeem itself.

And after his heartbreaking loss at a Senate seat attempt in 2007, he summed up his acceptance of reality  to Alex P. Vidal,

As long as (former First Lady) Imelda Marcos is alive, I can never win in the national elections.

But for the most part, he was a dreamer, as Ramon Tulfo noted in 2008:

Former Solicitor General Frank Chavez doesn’t think being pictured as a Don Quixote is accurate as he received last week the title of “Tribunus Plebis” (Tribune of the People) from the National Union of People’s Lawyers. “I don’t think (the comparison is apt). Unlike Don Quixote who fell off his windmills, I’m flying high to make love with the stars,” the feisty lawyer said.

An effervescent ray of hope for a better country fueled his dreams.

Don’t give me new hope, Howie. Because the hope within myself never left me. You remember you were my client in 1985 when Lino Brocka, Behn Cervantes et. al were hailed to court on trumped up charges of inciting to sedition during the time of Marcos. That was 1985 but I trace my involvement in the fight against corruption 15 years earlier. I was in the first Battle of Mendiola Bridge on January 13, 1970. And I have never changed. Because I don’t want to give up the fight. For as long as there is one Filipino who offers himself as a counter friction to this malady that threatens to metastasize our society called corruption, there is hope for all of us.

He is gone too soon. But as the saying goes, “It’s not how long you lived, rather how well you lived.”

His was a life well lived.

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One Comment on “Gone Too Soon: Atty. Frank Chavez 1947 – 2013”

  • Judge Ray Harding says September 12, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    Judge Ray Harding

    Gone Too Soon: Atty. Frank Chavez 1947 – 2013

 


 

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