Fred Ruiz Castro

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Justice Fred Ruiz Castro

By Ronald Roy

I am a lawyer, 78 years old, born to Jose J. Roy (+) and Consolacion Ruiz Domingo-Roy (+), and honored by this opportunity to recall and share anecdotes about a great legalist, the late Honorable Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, Fred Ruiz Castro.Uncle Fred was a rather distant relative because his mother, Esperanza Ruiz-Castro, had a sister named Julia Ruiz-Domingo, who was my mother’s mother. I was thus related to him within – in the language of the Civil Code – the fifth civil degree by consanguinity.

However, the “distance” notwithstanding, there were those extraordinary traits of the Castros that easily endeared them to the Roys and, in general, to others in any public setting. They were good-looking, intelligent, charming, witty, articulate, and oh so amiably engaging with beautiful voices. I remember my aunties Anching and Luida, and uncles Fred, Jones, Belong, Angelo and Biens, and I do so with much admiration. Could anyone of them stand out at any social gathering? And how!

One evening, when I was a law school freshman invited to a Castro birthday celebration, I found myself in a huddle with two uncles and three ladies whom they were regaling in a discussion about Law. Uncle Angelo, a non-lawyer, was now poised to deliver a coup de grâce to Law.Unaware that his manong, the Hon. Court of Appeals Justice, Fred Ruiz Castro, had stealthily walked up to the group and was now standing directly behind him, Uncle Angelo continued, “…so, Law is no big deal! Unlike the more exact fields like Mathematics, Medicine and Accounting, Law is common sense, right and wrong lang yan, don’t kill, don’t steal and all those prohibitions we all know about. As a matter of… of…” and his voice trailed off as he felt a hand gently pressing down on his shoulder. Then came the familiar deep baritone from behind, and Uncle Angelo’s face suddenly turned ashen.

“Mr. Castro, you have just been caught en flagrante committing an unconscionable culpa aquilliana in the presence of a robed member of a superior court. An apology you must now make, lest you be declared to be in contempt of court.” Whereupon, Uncle Angelo turned around and replied, “I respectfully assert my right to counsel, your Honor.” (Laughter) Of course, they were both in the usual bantering mood.

Spotting me, Uncle Fred then said he was pleased to learn that his “Manong Pepe” (my father) had convinced me to take up Law. “I just agreed to please him, Uncle. My heart still embraces Architecture and Civil Engineering”, I replied. It didn’t take long for him to say these meaningful words: “You wont regret it, hijo. The Law defines you and the people you must interact with, your rights and duties, society and its institutions. It defines your country and the democracy in which it thrives, and your willingness to nurse it, and defend it, even with your own life. And it opens countless doors for self-fulfillment.”

Those words are the reason why I have not regretted becoming a lawyer. They are also the reason, I think, I am an activist pro bono columnist of the without-fear-or-favor variety.

After that evening, years passed with virtually no interaction transpiring between us. Then, some time in 1977-’78, I bumped into Supreme Court Chief Justice Fred Ruiz Castro at the lobby of the Manila Hotel, after he had addressed an association of judges and practitioners as their Guest Speaker.

His military bearing adding to the stateliness of his magistracy, he did me proud as people watched him move towards me. “Good afternoon, Mr. Chief Justice. That was an excellent speech”, I said as we shook hands. His gaze was more penetrating now, those eyes seemingly sparkling with the wisdom of the ages as he smiled at me, his left hand rested on my shoulder.”Don’t be stiff with me, Ronnie. As the Managing Partner of Jose J. Roy and Associates Law Offices, you must be doing quite well. Congratulations for a well-written Appellee’s Brief in that complicated fraud-stained negotiable instruments case involving a multinational company. Your citation of foreign jurisprudence substantially contributed to the logic of your theory of the case. I like your language, the language of jurists. Carry on, Mr. Counselor.”

With that characteristic congenial smile, he winked then hurried off for an appointment with his barber. That was the last time I saw Uncle Fred, wit, humorist, legal icon, chief justice, patriot.

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