A century of distinction

Published August 3, 2020, 7:52 PM

by Jaime Laya

Inauguration of Maria Cristina Chemical Industries, Inc. with President Ramon Magsaysay (in dark suit)

Apart from aggravation, working at home during Lockdown saved three to four hours of daily travel time, part of which I spent going through my tsundoku-generated book heaps. One of the most rewarding—readable and inspiring—is the autobiography of Judge Guillermo B. Guevara, Across Four Generations (Manila: United Publishing Company, Inc., 1973).

Born in 1886 the posthumous son of a Guagua (Pampanga) bandmaster, he was completely orphaned at age 11. The disruptions of the Philippine Revolution and the Filipino-American War and poverty forced him to begin working at 17 after only six years of formal education. While earning a living, he made up through self-study the years of schooling he missed. Also by himself and as student office worker in a law office, he learned the law, took and passed the 1912 Bar Examination without a single day of law school. He was subsequently accepted by Georgetown University. Dividing his time between classes and serving as volunteer worker with Philippine resident commissioner Manuel L. Quezon lobbying for Philippine independence, he graduated a year later Master of Law at the head of his class.

Guevara grew in stature over the four generations of Philippine history, Spanish, American, and Japanese regimes and the Republic. Through merit, he rose from being a P40/month clerk-typist in 1903 to court stenographer, law clerk, assistant city attorney, judge of the Court of First Instance, Manila City fiscal (a position then second in rank to the mayor), successful private law practitioner, law professor, author, and acknowledged authority in criminal law and, beside it all, a leader of Philippine industry. He passed away in 1987 at age 101, a revered legal stalwart and major and pioneering industrialist.

It can be said of Guevara that he pulled himself up by his bootstraps. He mastered the shorthand that led him to the world of law; learned the subjects he missed when he left school; studied civil, criminal, and administrative law in preparation for the Bar examination, all through self-study and all the while working for a living. 

Guevara was a conscientious and hard worker, guided by a commitment to excellence and the highest ethical standards. Of him it was said that his bullets never missed their targets.

Throughout his career, his reputation was one of focus and hard work, professionalism, total integrity, upholding the law without regard to money, family ties, friendship, or power. He religiously observed the stricture of the time, “… pabagsak or palakasan was a grievous offense in the career of every appointive officer; and outside intervention in the transfer or promotion of any civil servant was sufficient cause for removal or demotion. Thus any act or conduct which directly or indirectly promoted the self-interest of any officer was condemned.”

As judge, “I held court every day from 8:30 in the morning to 12 noon and from 2 to 5 in the afternoon, except on Saturdays when I set the morning for hearing motions. In spite of the fact that, residing in Pasay, I spent two hours to get from home to the office [in Malolos, Bulacan and San Fernando, Pampanga], I could dispose of an average of 40 cases a month.” He followed the example of another judge he admired, one that only the truly expert could do: “dictating extemporaneous and impromptu decisions became a matter of practice for me.”

DAYS OF GLORY Judge Guillermo B. Guevara with chief justice of Spain José Castán Tobeñas, 1954

While assistant Manila city attorney, Guevara accomplished work that would be difficult, if not impossible, to duplicate today. He was credited with successfully registering under Torrens Title all the city’s patrimonial properties and in clearing all streets, esteros, and river embankments of encroachments and informal settlers. He also prosecuted a case that led to the conviction and imprisonment of the President and three senior officers of the Philippine National Bank. Guevara was personally responsible for building the case against the three officers. 

In an unprecedented case, Guevara argued a suit in the US Supreme Court for the City of Manila versus the insular auditor. He was the first Filipino to do so and he won. 

He played a key role in the celebrated Bar Scandal of 1927. A Tarlac judge had noted the incompetence of a certain lawyer. He called the attention of the Supreme Court that then ordered an investigation by the Manila City fiscal headed by Guevara. He found that the bar examination results had been falsified by the confidential secretary and relative of a Supreme Court justice. 

The accused was a law student of Guevara and friend of his wife. The justice was his colleague and mentor and others involved were friends and associates. It was one of his most difficult moments but he felt he had no choice.

The confidential secretary was jailed and the justice resigned.

Guevara retired early from government and organized a successful law office with the equally brilliant Vicente Francisco and Claro M. Recto. He continued teaching law, eventually becoming UP law professor and respected authority who wrote among others, the first book on Philippine criminal law annotated with references to Spanish and Philippine jurisprudence and who drafted a proposed Code of Crimes to replace the century-old Criminal Code.

As if these were not enough, he went into industry—rubber manufacturing before World War II and after Liberation, the rebuilding of American war surplus into structures including what are still the Ateneo and Mapua gymnasia. In the 1950s, he and his son Victor Guevara founded Maria Cristina Chemical Industries, Inc. and Mabuhay Vinyl Corporation, inaugurating industrial development in Mindanao. They grew to be among the Philippines’ largest corporations.

As part of their orientation programs, elected officials and civil servants whether executive, legislative or judiciary, are well advised to visit the Judge Guillermo B. Guevara Room of the UP Library. It will give them a chance to glimpse the once and—with hope—future Philippine justice and civil service systems. 

Notes: (a) Guevara’s early education at Trozo Elementary School was interrupted by the Philippine Revolution and Filipino-American War.  When peace was restored, he attended the Liceo de Manila until he left school at about the equivalent of second year college; (b) He enumerates textbooks of the subjects he couldn’t take and that he studied by himself during off hours: Retorica y Poetica, Fisica y Quimica, Geometria y Trigonometria, Filosophia y Metafisica, Historia Universal.  He also read classic works, e.g., Victor Hugo, Jose Rizal, Emile Zola, Leo Tolstoy; philosophers Voltaire and Immanuel Kant; speeches of “Titans of Spanish oratory”; works of Spanish novelists; and (c) The UP Main Library is being renovated and the Judge Guillermo B. Guevara Room is closed until further notice.

Comments are cordially invited, addressed to [email protected]

 
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