JUSTICE SERAFIN CUEVAS, A GOOD FRIEND
The office of the Secretary of Justice was bustling with people from all walks of life when I was ushered by a DOJ staff into a well-furnished room. I was asked through a liaison that Secretary of Justice Serafin Cuevas wanted to see me personally and wanted to give instructions. I was surprised at the appointment. To be called by the top man at the Padre Faura office meant either an arrest warrant was to be issued or some investigations would have to be conducted. From a distance, I felt that I would be investigated than be a part of investigation.
This was in 1998. I was designated as spokesman of the Bureau of Corrections. It was a period when death penalty was to be conducted. It was also a gray area since death penalty will have to be fulfilled after 23 years in hibernation. There were many forces among the religious who wanted to scrap the supreme penalty and that they have successfully mounted a conscientization campaign even among those tasked to implement the lethal injection.
I was escorted in the ante-room of DOJ where Secretary Cuevas would repair after reviewing stacks of documents. A few seconds later, a man in white dapper suit with a ready smile and firm hand shake greeted me. It was the main man himself up close, the man lionized in every school of law in the country, Justice Serafin R. Cuevas. He gestured me to sit and whispered, “I have your files and some reports. I called for you because the President does not want any glitch in the execution of death penalty. I called up your Director and required you to come over for instructions. Now, listen. I was informed that those who will be tasked to execute would retreat and make some moves that may embarrass us. I want you to immediately take over should there be any drama on that day.”
I could only bow and take note. My appearance that day was never captured in film despite the fact that I brought a mini camera with me. I was flustered and impressed by the stature of the man that I forgot to take a souvenir photo. He was amiable, so cordial yet firm in his language. I thought I was talking to a book!
That day was followed by several occasions. I was there during the first execution by lethal injection, watching carefully how the prison officers and phlebotomists would carry out the mission pursuant to the manual. Fortunately, the task was undertaken without a glitch. I was again summoned at the Padre Faura office and in the ante room Secretary Cuevas, a handful of security personnel and I had a small fete. The President according to the Secretary was very appeased.
Thereafter, I would be a constant companion of Secretary Cuevas in all our TV appearances. We guested at Kris Aquino’s program, at Dina Bonevie’s afternoon show, everywhere where talks about death penalty were discussed. We had a great evening every time we were called before media. Justice Cuevas was always the gentleman, the friendly counsel and on a personal note, a kindly neighbor and a concerned buddy.
A year and a half later, the Erap administration would bow out along with his cabinet, including the mild mannered and brilliant jurist Justice Cuevas who would likewise leave the scene. On his last day at DOJ, I would again be summoned in his ante room where we would hug and bid each other a grateful acknowledgment.
The last time I would again see the man was when he appeared as counsel during the impeachment trial. It was on that occasion that I saw how he performed on the grand platform of judicial bearing, perfect in his delivery, competent in his argument and almost sagacious when it comes to law and jurisprudence. While the whole world was complimenting his stance, I could not but recall how he would rib me with praise whenever we would exchange ideas.
With his words commending my responses during those times we travel together, I felt rewarded with medals and trophies already. Hearing him appreciate my thoughts further goaded me to think that I topped the Bar Exams! For me, he is still alive. What a man.
(Note: Justice Serafin R. Cuevas, 85, passed away February 9, 2014.)