At a time of crisis, Hilario Davide Jr. answered the call of his country to serve with honor and integrity, drawing on his Catholic faith for moral strength and spiritual guidance.
In 1986, when the bloodless People Power revolution in the Philippines ousted corrupt President Ferdinand Marcos, Davide played a central role in constructing a new democratic government. He served on the constitutional drafting commission and headed the Commission on Elections to reform and oversee the electoral system.
In 1991, he was named to the nation’s Supreme Court and became chief justice in 1998. He later served as Philippine ambassador to the United Nations and now, retired from public life, he is chairman of KCFAPI, the Knights of Columbus’ insurance company in the Philippines.
Davide spoke with Register correspondent Brian Caulfield.
Tell us about your upbringing?
I was born in a very remote barangay or barrio in Argao, in the province of Cebu [central Philippines] on Dec. 20, 1935. My parents were very, very dedicated teachers, who passed on to their children excellent values and virtues, especially our Christian values and principles, because they were so serious about their Catholic religion. I remember clearly that every morning we would wake up and say our morning prayers, and in the evening we would say the Rosary. Our family was very poor. My father was among 14 children, and he was the only one who was able to get an education. I have four brothers and two sisters. We had very little outside of our faith. The only hope we had was in God’s mercy and protection.
How did you afford a higher education?
I graduated in 1959 from the University of the Philippines, which was a public school and almost free of charge. I also was a working student for five years, working four hours a day, for which I was paid a minimum amount.
I decided to take up law because of something that happened to me at a young age. When I graduated from elementary school, we had an honor student who would not even shake my hand because I was from a very poor area. This encouraged me to think that as I would grow up I should find a way to help the poor. I got involved in politics because I wanted to serve, especially the poor. It was a way to share the little time and talent that I had by being in politics and holding an elected position.
Talk about the People Power revolution of 1986.
These were turbulent times for the Philippines, times of oppression and injustice for the people due to the dictatorial regime of Marcos.
The leader of the opposition was Ninoy Aquino, who was exiled by Marcos and lived in America. When he returned in August 1983, he was shot and killed right on the tarmac of the airport. Many others were victims of persecution, many died, but we were empowered by the death of our icon, Ninoy Aquino, which galvanized opposition to Marcos. …
Then, in 1986, Marcos called a snap election, and there were so many irregularities, and we knew that Marcos won because of cheating and fraudulent reports. We believed that our opposition candidate, Corey Aquino, the wife of our slain leader, had actually won. This led to massive street demonstrations and the ouster of Marcos, and she was proclaimed president.
I was no longer in government at the time; my term had ended in 1984, and I was back home in Cebu. But when she called the constitutional commission of 1986, I was one of the 50 selected to draft the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines. I was chairman of the legislative committee that formulated the power of the legislative body, and I was a member of other committees. We did our best.
You have said that you are proud that the word “love” is in the preamble.
Yes, our preamble is, I think, the best of any preamble of all the countries in the world because it mentions the word “love.” We ask for “the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality and peace.” The preamble is a prayer, asking the Almighty to help the sovereign Filipino people to establish a just and humane society and a government that embodies our ideals, hopes and aspirations.
Do you think that the bloodless People Power revolution paved the way for Eastern Europe to throw off communism three years later?
Yes, definitely; it became, really, the light of the succeeding events of our country and the guide for many of our people — and for many other people of the world in the years to come.
The Philippines stands out as the only nation, besides the Vatican, to prohibit divorce.
Our constitution prohibits divorce and abortion. We are anti-divorce, anti-abortion; we are pro-life, pro-family and pro-marriage under the constitution. The right to life of the unborn from the moment of conception is in the Bill of Rights. But, unfortunately, at one time, the Philippine legislature enacted a bill providing for the implementation of the death penalty for some heinous crimes; but it was repealed much later because it reflected badly on the Philippines, especially among the Catholics.
Has your Catholic faith guided your public service?
I would attribute what I have accomplished to my Catholic faith. I have full confidence in the providence of God. We are told by Jesus how to love our neighbors, and we have to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. It is only by the grace of God that you can say that your life has been fulfilled. Even in our family, our children and our grandchildren are brought up being taught how to pursue this life of faith and service to others.
What do you see as the future of the Philippines, which is often called poor and overpopulated?
I am very hopeful for the Philippines and her people. In a recent survey by the University of Chicago, it was demonstrated that, of all the peoples of the world, the Philippines has the greatest level of belief in God. The people’s faith in divine Providence has sustained them, in time of calamity, in time of adversity. So you can see the Filipino people as the most “smiling” in the world. … Even with rising population, this is no problem in my view. We will have more workers, more people and families to work for the greater glory of God.
Register correspondent Brian Caulfield writes from Wallingford, Connecticut.