[Image above is a Clip art courtesy of, and licensed from, the Clip Art Gallery on DiscoverySchool.com, via URL: http://school.discoveryeducation.com/clipart/images/judge.gif]
THEY WERE NOW back home. After having a raucous party. It was actually a dinner, a celebration of sorts. For him. Given by his mother and his cousins, aunts and uncles. They were very proud of him. Now resting on his bed, he heard his mother call him. He went out of his room and descended the stairs.
“Yes, Mom?” he asked. He saw his mother seated at the table, holding what appeared to be a letter.
Her eyes moist with tears, she looked at him. She extended a hand, holding the folded paper.
“For me?” he said, walking toward the chair beside hers.
She slightly nodded.
“A letter?” He was wondering who the heck would still bother to write letters in this age of emails, Facebook, Twitter, cell phones, laptops, tablets. He seemed hesitant, but then eventually took the letter.
She bent her head, resting her forehead on her clasped hands. “It’s from your father,” she softly said.
He froze, looking at her fearfully. “But how..?” Silence then fell.
She was now weeping gravely, silently. “Just read, son.”
With trembling hands, the young lawyer gently unfolded the paper. It was already yellowed, evident of its age. He could feel the hollow on the surface of the paper caused by the dot matrix-printed words. The signature scrawled at the end of the letter had made a dip also on the surface. Slowly, his eyes ran on the contents that read:
Dear Joseph,At this time, his mother was now furiously mopping her face. He moved near her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.
I know the intoxicating euphoria you are now having. I, too, experienced the same feeling back when I passed the bar exams. I knew beforehand that you would make it. I had no doubts at all. Why? Because you’re my son, that’s all! But kidding aside, I really felt you have the fire, the determination, the steel will to get over, or rather, overcome any obstacles thrown your way. Back when you were still a kid, I always felt amazed at how you were able to hurdle all those barriers and impediments that I thought would be very hard for you to conquer. But then, you did, son, you did.
Now that you are a lawyer, be very, very cautious in performing your job. Being a lawyer is not easy, you know. There are times when you would have to grapple first with your conscience before discharging your work. If that happens, don’t act hastily. Ponder. Give it a thought. Or give it a second thought. Ask others, like asking your mother or your friends. Getting advices from others is a best way for you to decide wisely. More importantly, and I say above all things, get help from our friend above, He is the source of wisdom and strength and of everything else. Pray a lot. And you will be guided all through your life. Don’t forget this, son, don’t. Because I know. And I have not failed in my job.
As a lawyer, what do you intend to do? You can join the government and be content to go to work every day seeing red tape and, well, corruption at its best. Or you can join the private sector and become an in-house counsel. Well, this choice affords you greater benefits and perks than what you will receive from a government post. But, of course, you will have to give your loyalty to your boss or bosses in your company. Come hell or high water. You have to cover their asses, if I may use that term. Naturally since they are the ones paying your salary.
Or you can be a trial lawyer.
Son, in choosing this last option, you have to be always on guard. In every move that you make. Don’t be blinded by the gold or silver or even the treasure trove offered by rich clients. For all you know, they may turn out to be a fool’s gold. See to it that what you fight for is always for just cause. For justice. For fairness. For equality. Sounds ridiculous, right? I know, son, I know. In this age of ours, nothing seems to be just or fair. We are now living in a world where wrong is being presented as right, where unfairness is being shrouded to appear as fair. Don’t be deceived, son. Don’t. But I know you won’t, son. I know deep in my heart you won’t fall into the pit of deception. Your mother, I know, will be there to help you out. She is your guardian angel. Remember the times when, back when you were still a kid, she would always be there at your side? When you were sick with some serious ailment? (I think it was dengue fever, right?) When you got hurt after falling from a bicycle which was too big for you? Your mother really loves you, Joseph. She could not have lived without you by her side. And she will always be there for you every moment of her life. Be thankful that you have her. She loves you, son.
I have written too much, son. You may now be tired. Me, too, son, I got tired writing this letter. But anyway, I hope, son, I hope, that I was able to instill to you some words which will, or may, perhaps be of help to you in your journey through life.
With much love,
(Sgd.) Jose Santiago
Her body was now shaking. In front of her, crumpled pieces of tissue lay near the tissue box.
“Please stop crying, Mom,” he pleaded silently.
She lifted her head. “Maybe I should not have given you that letter, Joseph,” she said softly.
Placing the letter on the table, he stood up and looped both arms around her. “No, Mom,” he said in a hushed tone. “You were right in giving me that.” He took a step, then sat down again on the chair.
He stopped her in mid sentence. “But, Mom, how did..? When did he write this? I mean…I’m confused.”
She told him. The letter was written years back. Back when he was still in grade school. Grade school? Yes, his mother repeated. His father, then a judge in Manila, had wanted him to be a lawyer. His mother, however, wished otherwise. She wanted him to be a doctor. But they both agreed that it would be up to Joseph to decide eventually when the time came for him to choose which profession he liked.
His father, according to his mother, had a reputation of being a “straight” judge. One who was incorruptible. There had been many instances where big shots had approached him, offering huge sums of money just to have the cases pending before his court dismissed. His father, however, ignored the offers. “Why, can I take them with me in my grave?” his father had told his mother. There had been threats to his father’s life, though. But according to his mother, his father just shrugged them off. “If what you’re doing is right, what do you have to fear?” he again said to his mother, telling her that those threats were just empty ones designed to intimidate him in doing what he thought was right. “If I were to live my life in fear because of these threats, then do you think I will have a meaningful life to enjoy?” he laughed when he said this to his mother. “Let them throw these threats to me, and I will show them who they are dealing with,” he mockingly told his wife.
Though it was a time of fear and panic for her (she would always dread the approach of evening when his father went home, for there might just be some hired gun waiting for his father), they thoroughly enjoyed their lives in their humble abode. His father liked very much her cooking. She delighted in the way his father gave her his full attention as a loving husband and a caring father to their only child. She loved, too, his sense of humor. There would not be a day without her having a stomachache due to his jokes and funny antics. At times when she would be ill, his father would take time from his work just to give her his “TLC”—“total loving care.” No, money was never a problem. His father had inherited huge pieces of land from his grandfather. His father had disposed some sizeable portion, the proceeds of which he put in several banks. It was from these deposits where they sourced their everyday expenses. Given the very small amount of salary which judges earned at that time, it was plainly impossible for them to rely on his father’s paycheck.
Trouble began when his father became close to a magistrate who occupied a very high position in the judiciary. She seemed to have noticed something in his father’s behavior. She, however, paid no mind to it, thinking that his father, brave and determined, was someone who could not be cowed or bullied by anyone. But then, there were nights his father practically had not had any sleep at all. She started feeling worried. She knew his father too well; his father would not have displayed such kind of behavior had the matter that bothered him was something he could handle.
She was right all along. He opened up. The magistrate was a very powerful man. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The “Chief”, as his father had referred to the man, had called on him one day. A week later, they sort of struck some kind of friendship (they were, in turned out, province mates). Who was his father, a mere lowly judge in a lower court, to ignore such a big shot? Besides, it could pave the way for a possible jump by his father to a higher post in the judiciary, specifically in the Court of Appeals. But the Chief, as his father would later know, had an agenda all along. Now that they were buddies, the Chief asked his father if he (the Chief) could ask for a small favor. His father replied affirmatively, thinking it was something outside of his duties as a judge. But his father was wrong. It was about a case, a very big case involving a multi-billion peso parcel of land located in Manila, which was being heard by his father in his courtroom. The Chief asked if his father could dismiss the case. Very simple. His father hesitated, making no commitment. He added he would have to study thoroughly the matter. The Chief got the message. It was a flat refusal of his request. From then on, his father never heard anything anymore from the Chief. No longer did his father bother about the case. For his father could decide on the big case on the merits, fair and square, based on what the law was.
Until one day.
He received a subpoena from the Philippine Senate. It was issued by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. The matter being investigated by the committee was corruption in the judiciary. His father had been named as one of the witnesses. There were other witnesses, one of whom had testified against the Chief, the titular head of the judiciary of the country. This witness used to be a confidential attorney of the Chief in the Supreme Court. There apparently was a falling out between the witness and the Chief. And now the witness was spilling the beans. This witness was present when his father met the Chief. The witness heard the conversation. They were inside the room then occupied by the Chief; it was in a five-star hotel in Makati. And the witness had identified his father as the judge whom the Chief had approached regarding a big case.
Initially, his father ignored the subpoena, thinking he was immune from such kind of legislative investigations. He had consulted some of his colleagues and some lawyers about it. They were certain that a member of the judiciary, like his father, could not be summoned by the Senate.
It was a bad decision, his father later learned. The powerful Senate committee issued another subpoena to his father, threatening him with contempt and arrest and detention should he still ignore the subpoena.
His father talked to his mother. They discussed at length his father’s predicament the whole night. The next day, a decision was made. His father would attend the hearing before the Senate committee.
And he would tell everything.
The date of the hearing was a week after. His father had thoroughly prepared himself. He would be accompanied by a lawyer, a friend of his, to act as his counsel before the Senate committee. His father woke up early on the hearing date. Assuring his mother that everything was all right, his father said that after this event was concluded, they would go on a tour abroad. His father bid her goodbye, asking her to wish him luck. “Just stay glued on the TV, and don’t forget to record it,” he said with a wink, saying he wanted to see the video once he got home in the evening.
That was the last time his mother would see his father.
His father’s car had just gone out of the subdivision. When the car turned at the corner block, a motorbike suddenly blocked his father’s path. It was a split-second affair. The helmeted man pulled out a small gun. Gunfire broke the morning calm in the neighborhood. Certain that the man behind the wheels was dead, the assassin sped away.
Inside the car, the man was still breathing. He was able to dial his cell phone, informing his wife that he had been shot.
Terror-seized, his wife went out of the house, frantically asking a neighbor to help her get to her husband whose car was just a few blocks away from the subdivision gate.
When Joseph's mother got there less than five minutes later, his father’s bloodied torso was limp and lifeless. The cell phone was now on the floor; it bore a gunshot too.
There was a second assassin. A backup to the first. He went to the car and pumped a few more bullets to the dying man inside. The mobile phone caught a bullet. Seconds later, Joseph’s father was dead.
The cold-blooded murder drew front page headlines. Suspicions were thrown at the Chief for the death of Joseph’s father. Investigations were conducted. Nothing, however, came out. No evidence whatsoever was produced that would link the Chief to the murder. It was revealed that Joseph’s father had for a long time been receiving a lot of threats to his life, a fact confirmed by his mother.
Joseph was then an eight-year-old grade schooler. He could remember distinctly the wake of his father. And the burial. But he vaguely understood why he was murdered. “There are bad people in this world,” his mother had told him. “And these bad people kill the good ones. That’s why they killed your father, Joseph. Your father was a good man.”
The tears, the wail, the grief, the untold suffering. Joseph could remember seeing his mother totally devastated.
More than seventeen years ago. That fateful event. Joseph grew up fatherless. It had made Joseph a determined man.
“Mom,” Joseph said. “It’s been years. I don’t want to see you cry again, Mom.”
Blowing her nose on the crumpled tissue, she shook her head. “I’m sorry, son. It’s just…”
“Because of this letter?”
“Yes, son.” She took another piece of tissue.
“I don’t understand, Mom. When did he write this letter? And how did he know that, well, I would pursue law? That I would pass the bar exams?”
Dabbing her eyes, she looked at him. “I actually didn’t know that he wrote this letter. It was after the burial, a week after, when I rummaged through his things. I stumbled on this letter.”
“But how about…?”
“That you’d be a lawyer someday?”
“I didn’t know too. I wanted you to become a doctor, right? Don’t you remember?”
She paused for a while. Then she said, “I guess he knew that. Maybe he was a clairvoyant, son.” She gave a small smile.
“Would you know when did he write this?” he asked, looking at the letter.
“I really have no idea, son. But I can only guess. Maybe on the day he was murdered.” She pressed a tissue again on her eyes.
“But why? Did he know that something would happen to him?”
“As I look back, son. I think he knew all along. But he never said that to me explicitly. He was saying some things with fuzzy, indistinct meanings. Like, I remember him saying to me the night before he was gunned down that, ‘Be sure you convince Joseph to take up medicine. Because even if I’m not here, I know he’ll be a lawyer. Wanna bet?’ But I just ignored it. Knowing your father.”
Silence again intervened.
She rose, her hands on her face. He stood up, turning to her.
“I love you, Mom.”
She embraced him. “I love you, too, son,” she breathed.
“And thank you for the letter. I’ll keep it safe. Better yet, I’ll have it framed. I’ll mount it on the wall.”
She smiled at him.**
[Grab a copy of the forthcoming book TREE AND OTHER STORIES by AMADOR F. BRIOSO, JR., to be available in June, 2011, in selected bookstores in Manila. Another book, LOVE AND DESTINY, a novella written by the same author, will also be available in June, 2011. The author's previous book, "YOU FILIBINI?" Stories And Other Writings, is currently available at all Powerbooks bookstore outlets in Metro Manila.]