Shadow of doubt, Built on rock

is my Trade Tripper column for this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

Somebody once said that "with integrity nothing else matters, without integrity nothing else matters." Two books came out recently that illustrate those truths.Who a person is — as a friend, co-worker, or family member — has a bearing on how he would be as a public official. People have long been misled to believe that personal lives have no bearing on his public acts, and this has led to disastrous results. These two books, one indirectly and the other directly, tell us that if a person cannot have coherent unity in his public and private life, what results is a perversion of either or both.

The first is Marites Vitug’s Shadow of Doubt (available at Popular Bookstore or at the Newsbreak office). With all the law books that are churned out yearly, it’s surprising how rare (and necessary) a book such as this is (and written by a non-lawyer at that). There is, of course, Justice Isagani Cruz’s Res Gestae, which gives a comprehensive history of the Supreme Court from the moment of its inception up to the Narvasa Court. Res Gestae is a great book (one of my favorites, in fact; giving quite interesting glimpses of the personalities that made up the highest court of the land), but due to its breadth (covering almost 100 years of judicial history) had to make sacrifices in terms of depth. Ms. Vitug’s book, limiting its explorations to almost a single decade, goes significantly deeper in revealing the workings of a famously reticent institution.

Florentino P. Feliciano, addressing the 28th Judicial Orientation Program in the Supreme Court, gave a classic description of the "qualities of a good judge": humility, learning, sensitivity to the social values in the law, and personal morality and integrity. Of the latter, Justice Feliciano relates it "to the fact that our community requires very high standards of personal morality and integrity from judges. x x x The quality of justice a judge renders is necessarily reflective of the quality of the judge as a moral person, as a principled man." However, as Ms. Vitug alleges, she was surprised to learn (analyzing cases such as PP 1017, Curata vs. PPA, and the matter of the Judicial Development Fund) that the Supreme Court was "a place that is tolerant of men and women who take integrity lightly."

Which reminds me of a Newsbreak article (in 2007), "Inside the Secret World of the Judiciary," which is composed of excerpts from former Supreme Court Justice Jose Campos, Jr.’s memoir From the Academe to the Supreme Court. As Justice Campos writes: "As I went over the list of applicants for the Regional Trial Courts, reading their curriculum vitae as required by the JBC, I noticed the following: one, a majority of the applicants had barely passed the bar; two, 90% had a bar rating below 80%; three, the former President [Corazon Aquino] had appointed several judges while completely ignoring the fact that they had failed the bar exam not once, but twice, even three or four times."

The point is, the little things matter. If somebody can’t do the little things well, there’s no way that person can be trusted with the big things. That is why people have to really recognize this unavoidable fact: how a person studies in school, comports himself with his colleagues or subordinates, the consistency of his positions, the integrity and honesty with which he does his work even if he knows nobody will notice, his flaws and virtues, all will be magnified if that person is given power.

Which leads me to the second book and this one directly looks at unity of life by discussing the practical applications of the daily gospel to our ordinary work and relationships. Built on Rock (available at Paulines Bookstore) is by Fr. Roberto Latorre, who holds a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the University of Navarre. This book serves a very useful purpose: it contains reflections on the gospel read during Mass for a specific day and then gives common sense suggestions on how to act upon the lessons learned from the gospel. The reflections are arranged quite cleverly, being made to correspond to the gospel (cited under the usual format of Evangelist’s name, chapter, and verse) as provided for under the liturgical season (and covers liturgical cycles A, B, and C). The result is that, unlike other daily devotionals that are valid only for a year, this is a book that’s meant to be read forever.

For Easter (as well as the coming elections), therefore, do yourself and your loved ones a favor: get these two books. Filipinos right now clearly need a moral compass within which to provide direction and unity to our lives (that thereafter affect how we address business, politics, and various social issues). The first book illustrates how important having such a compass is, the second gives practical reflections on how to get that compass.