After retirement, many would rather take their time and shift to a lower gear. Brion, on the other hand, buckled up and continued his journey in law, but this time in a different mode.
Brion was an associate justice of the country’s highest court from March 17, 2008 until his retirement on Dec. 29, 2016. During his eight-year stint, Brion had handled and participated in various landmark cases.
In 2017, he began dedicating his time imparting his years of expertise and experience both to law students and every Filipino.
“Life, personal or professional, does not end at retirement; it goes on and can even transcend death through one’s continuing legacies like books and other published works,” the 1974 Bar Topnotcher shares.
“Writing is very similar to teaching as both involve sharing — sharing of knowledge and experiences of a lifetime with those who come after us. They differ only in their medium. writing and teaching are continuing obligations that I owe to the young,” he adds.
He is currently a Law faculty member at his alma mater, Ateneo de Manila Law School (ALS); University of Asia and the Pacific (UAP); and San Pablo College of Law. He was dean at San Sebastian College of Law from 2017 to 2018.
Brion has always aspired to be a writer. In 1974, he was the editor-in-chief of the Ateneo Law Journal. He also became an editor of the Ontario Ministry of Labor’s Legal Update in 1993. Now, he pens the column The Legal Front for a daily publication in the country.
As a tradition, retiring sc justices write a compilation of their most important decisions. Brion modified his path in following this tradition by compiling his notable concurrences and dissents, not his ponencias, in his book Judicial Journey. Concurrences and dissents are the justices’ agreements or disagreements with the decisions written by the other court justices.
“I resorted to this approach as I thought I could express my judicial philosophy best by focusing on the often-hidden official writings of justices — their concurrences and dissents. These are the expressions of my desired directions of the law, which the majority of the Court did not take,” he says.
Following the success of his first book, he will soon launch another one entitled Life at the Legal Front.
“These books are manifestations of my view that nobody retires — one continues to live life; he or she simply shifts from one activity to another. It is the focus that changes. My first book is about my life in the SC. The second Contains my reactions to events after my SC retirement, expressed through the prism of the law,” he shares.
“Thus, I live the law these days through my present activities — teaching, writing and, recently, by participating in business activities through corporate directorships. The commonality is the law for which I have received lifelong and continuing training,” he adds.
According to Brion, his present book deals not only with life but, specifically, with life in the law as he has seen it and continues to see it. It is a compilation of his weekly columns, weaved into a cohesive whole through a story-like narration that gives the pieces cohesiveness and total meaning.
The core message of The Legal Front is the advancement of the rule of law, respect for the law and, as may be necessary, fear of the law.
Flipping through the pages, readers would immerse themselves on topics dealing with the role and importance of the law in the community and the balancing of interests within society; balancing of powers within the government, and the sc’s role in our society. with the law as the take off point. It tackles our country’s biggest hurdles such as COVID-19, drugs and corruption, including demands of legal education and the necessity for legal ethics.
Several chapters of The Legal Front have been devoted to the question of governance, both of the courts and of our government. A series of articles expound on how the SC operates and is run. National governance is tackled through a focus on the author’s cited models; on our new leaders; and modes of governance.
The book raises thought-provoking questions such as: How should the government be structured so that its power will not be abused and will not trample on the rights and interests of citizens? Are our constitutional policies still apt and appropriate to our society’s current weightiest problems?
“Our citizenry should internalize the value of the law as a mode of ordering our society.
“Our ideal for our country has always been the attainment of a working and functional democracy. I hope that my books will somehow contribute to this ideal and help lead us to a functional, stable, prosperous, orderly and peaceful society through the common effort and cooperation of its major components — among them, our government, our citizens, business and the media,” he says.
“To achieve my aim of writing and encouraging non-lawyers to read what I have written, I have written in non-legal language and I have chosen topics in the law that touch the lives of the common man,” he adds.
To ensure that his books reach a broad range of readers, it has a reasonable length (a little over 600 pages) and is intended as a teaching book and virtual classroom material.
“I hope that these books will make a difference to the readers by making them involved and committed members of our society,” he hopes.
In between, readers would get a glimpse of the light moments in Brion’s life, like a grandfather sharing stories with his grandkids. In one part, he recalls the day his law Dean, FR. Joaquin Bernas, S.J. walked with him to the sc to confirm the 1975 bar results.
“I felt very light, almost weightless, during the walk in 1975; in fact, I was in a daze. I remember Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J. talking to me as we walked along Padre Faura to the Court, but his words did not fully register,” he recalls in the book.
“At the back of my mind was the persistent but unusual thought: ‘Walk carefully and watch your step; now is not the right time for a Bar topnotcher to stumble.’ For indeed, against all odds, I had topped the Bar exam after a lot of detours on the way to becoming a lawyer,” the book read.
Venturing to business
The former justice has taken many paths in life and in practicing his profession, leading to the learning, experiences and gained wisdom he now enjoys at age 74.
His career started in Caltex Philippines’ Quality Control Laboratory during his early college days at the University of Sto. Tomas (UST), which he calls his wilderness years. He then became a clerical assistant at the Court of Agrarian Relations while taking up Law at Ateneo in the early ‘70s.
Brion has identified himself with the law, from his earliest boyhood dreams until today, which explains the path he has taken. His law career took off in 1975 when he topped the Philippine Bar Examinations, one of the hardest law examinations in Asia.
From there, he had taken on private and public law practice here and in canada — initially, as an associate then a partner at the Siguion Reyna, Montecillo & Ongsiako Law Offices; Batasang Pambansa assemblyman; Deputy Minister of Labor (at the former Philippine Ministry of Labor); lawyer at the Ontario Ministry of Labor/Management Board Secretariat in Ontario, Canada; undersecretary of the DOLE and subsequently of the DFA in the Philippines; Court of Appeals Associate Justice; DOLE Secretary; and, and eventually as Associate Justice of the Philippine SC.
He now enters another field as he joins COCOLIFE as one of its board directors and COCOGEN as board chairperson.
“My participation in COCOLIFE and COCOGEN are unplanned detours in my life because these are my first active involvement in business. I was invited by a friend to sit down with COCOLIFE President and CEO Atty. Martin Loon because they were looking for a director with an extensive legal background. I accepted the offer — together with some former colleagues in the Judiciary, without realizing that my participation could be very exciting,” he shares.
“For one, insurance is a new field for me, although corporation law is not; I had seen my fair share of corporate experience and disputes while I was in law practice and while with the SC. Another novelty for me was the composition of the board and the senior officers. Our president is young and has a lot of new and fresh ideas. This is true for both Cocolife and Cocogen, and working with the young, and their ideas have energized me,” he adds.
He discloses that working with the younger generation is unique. He’s eager to impart his varying work experiences and extensive formal academic preparations and field experiences which he feels could be a value added to, and provide a good mix for, the newer and younger ideas of many from the COCOLIFE group of companies.
“My greatest desire now is to be able to make my past training and experiences available to the company and to our youthful leaders as they seize the future for the company with their fresh, imaginative and innovative ideas,” he caps.
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