[PHOTO AT LEFT - JOB WELL DONE: Chief Justice Hilario Davide welcomes President Arroyo at the Supreme Court grounds before the last en banc session which he presided over before his retirement today, his 70th birthday. Photo by WILLY PEREZ]

MANILA, December 20, 2005 (STAR) By Jose Rodel Clapano - Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. retires today wishing for unity between the administration and opposition, and looking forward to spending more time with his family, especially his wife, Virginia, or "Gigi."

The list of Davide’s possible successors has been narrowed to three with Senior Associate Justice Reynato Puno as the leading candidate.

The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) has submitted the names of Puno and Associate Justices Artemio Panganiban and Leonardo Quisumbing to Malacañang as possible replacements for Davide. President Arroyo will make the final choice.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said President Arroyo is likely to announce her choice as the next chief justice "within the next 48 hours."

Davide, who turns 70 today — the mandatory retirement age for justices — bade farewell to court employees and his fellow justices at the Supreme Court premises during the flag ceremony yesterday, saying that he would miss his job.

He voiced no regrets upon his retirement and asked for one parting gift: a reuniting of opposition and administration leaders.

"It is a retiree’s privilege to receive a parting gift and not to be begrudged for so accepting it. I will go further. I will beg for a gift. I beseech all who lead our government to grant me the gift of words of peace, words of friendship, words of comfort, not for me, but towards each other. Let peace start with what issues from our lips, the very lips we use in supplication to God, in praise of His mercies, and in contrition for our sins," Davide said.

Davide also asked the leaders of the national government to turn their eyes "to the downtrodden who are growing in numbers and suffering unspeakable miseries.

"I implore them to listen to the sobs of parents who lose their children to disease and calamity, and to the sighs of family members torn apart by the exigencies of making a living… For they, most of the time, are the hapless victims of our quarrels and our vendettas," he said.

Davide said there was no doubt that when "we have completely eroded our people’s trust in the workings of government and the instrumentalities of the law, then we rightly dread the proverbial deluge, for nothing more will stand in its way."

On retirement, Davide said he was in fact looking forward to spending more time with his family, particularly his wife.

"She (Gigi) is here to claim me now. Now I will have more time with her and my family, as well as my 11 apos (grandchildren)," Davide said.

Davide said heading the SC often meant spending more time with court matters than with Gigi. Now his life will take a more domestic turn.

"She prepares my breakfast, a very simple breakfast, as early as 5:00 in the morning. So there you are, Gigi, I’ll be back to you," Davide said.

Davide said aside from having more time with Gigi, he will also find time to pick up his hobbies, including planting trees, "to participate in the act of creation."

His term as Chief Justice was marked by political turbulence, which often saw Davide steering the judiciary body calmly through rough waters.

"Well, we had enough of controversies. But that’s only because the court is pro-active and we had the courage to defend the independence of the court from partisan politics," Davide said simply.

From November 2000 to January 2001, Davide presided over the impeachment case against then President Joseph Estrada. The impeachment ended in a mistrial, though Davide was later present at the swearing-in of former Vice President Gloria Arroyo after Estrada was ousted through massive street protests.

In 2003, Davide escaped impeachment himself when the High Tribunal dismissed the second impeachment complaint filed against him in one year by members of the House of Representatives who had claimed misuse of the Judiciary Development Fund.

Davide spent a total of 14 years in the SC and served as Chief Justice for the last seven years.

He was appointed to the high court on Jan. 24, 1991 and was named Chief Justice on Nov. 30, 1998 by Estrada himself.

Aside from being considered the spirit behind the SC’s action program for judicial reform and its activist stance during his stint as

Chief Justice, Davide also holds the distinction of having occupied positions in all three branches of government, including Assemblyman in the Interim Batasang Pambansa (1978 to 1984), and as chairman of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Davide was also a delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention and was named as one of the 50 commissioners in the 1986 Constitutional Commission.

Among the three contenders for the chief justice post, Puno is the most senior.

Puno was appointed to the High Court on June 28, 1993.

Prior to his appointment to the High Tribunal, Puno served as Associate Justice of the Intermediate Court of Appeals and the Court of Appeals, as Deputy Minister of Justice and Assistant Solicitor General.

He holds the distinction of being the youngest appointee of the CA.

On the other hand, Panganiban was appointed as justice of the 15-man Supreme Court in 1995.

Prior to his appointment to the SC, Panganiban distinguished himself as a practicing lawyer, law professor, Catholic lay leader and businessman.

Panganiban has also authored 10 books over the last 10 years.

It was in 1998 that Quisumbing was named to the High Tribunal.

Quisumbing practiced law for almost 15 years and served in various government posts for over 21 years.

Prior to his appointment to the SC, Quisumbing served as Secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

Quisumbing also served as Undersecretary of the Department of National Defense and as Senior Deputy Executive Secretary to President Fidel Ramos.

"Right now, as I leave, your Supreme Court already stands on a high pedestal in the international judicial environment," Davide said yesterday. "We are on top, as a matter of fact, when it comes to judicial reforms as expressly demonstrated in the international conference and showcase on judicial reforms. And thanks to all of you for making it so. Now, the Philippines, especially the Philippine judiciary, is not just a spot on the world map, it is now a big name, thanks to all of you."

As a tribute to Davide, the SC justices handed over to him the judicial robe which he wore as Chief Justice, and a number of items including the Supreme Court flag, its seal, a commemorative pin, a fountain pen, ring and timepiece, as well as photos and souvenirs taken with fellow justices during Davide’s stint as the head of the high court.

The event was attended by President Arroyo, former Presidents Ramos, Cory Aquino, Senate President Franklin Drilon, Sen. Joker Arroyo, former chief justice Andress Narvasa, Solicitor General Alfredo Benipayo, Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, television host Winnie Monsod, her husband Christian, Vice President Noli de Castro.

During the retirement ceremonies, Davide was also presented with a testimonial template by the court en banc bearing words honoring him.

The ceremonial template partly read: "Mr. Chief Hilario G. Davide Jr., fathered a majesterial philosophy on how to grow a glowing Bench and Bar.

"For his tireless concretization of the philosophy and central doctrines ingrained in the Davide Watch which has now permeated the global judicial theater, the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the Philippines are privileged and honored to present this template for a remarkable man," the template read. — With Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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