LA TRINIDAD, Benguet ? The man they called ?Brawnie? at the Commission on Elections will not need to argue before St. Peter?s court for his place in heaven.
For if judicial performance alone would be the yardstick to enter heaven, Commissioner Romeo Brawner, 72, humble and straight as an arrow, would readily earn his berth.
Brawner?s death on May 29 ended an inspiration-filled career that made a name for this native of Kiangan, Ifugao ? a dedicated family man, a law professor (Baguio Colleges Foundation, now the University of the Cordilleras), a public prosecutor, a Bureau of Internal Revenue collection agent, a Knight of Columbus member and a Court of Appeals justice.
His appointment to the Comelec in 2006 brought new life to the election body?s sagging reputation.
But many believed that Brawner?s stint as presiding judge of the Regional Trial Court Branch 10 in La Trinidad, Benguet, from January 1987 to August 1995, was the landmark of his judicial tenure.
Having performed beyond par, he was conferred the Chief Justice Jose Laurel Judicial Excellence Award as outstanding judge from the Foundation for Judicial Excellence in 1995.
He was the epitome of the cold neutrality of a judge, a character he displayed in and out of the courtroom, said Prosecutor Jurgenson Lagdao.
Lagdao knew Brawner very well. He was Brawner?s legal researcher at the RTC and his research attorney at the CA before he moved to the Benguet prosecutor?s office.
He recalled the time Brawner returned a sack of potatoes given by a litigant in a case pending before his sala.
?The potatoes were not meant as a bribe but as a share from a bountiful harvest. But he (Brawner) deemed it was inappropriate to accept the present,? he said.
He also recalled that during an inspection of a disputed lot in Barangay Sagpat in Kibungan town, Brawner surprised everyone when he refused to have lunch with any of the parties involved in the case.
The reason, Lagdao said, was that Brawner brought his own packed lunch.
In other inspections, Brawner would refuse to ride with any of the parties since he preferred to bring his own vehicle, he said.
?At the CA, he was provided with a driver but he chose to drive himself,? he said.
?He ate at the CA canteen only with his staff. Believe it or not, kanya-kanyang bayad (we paid for our meals),? Lagdao said.
Prosecutors William Bacoling and Andres Gundayao were amazed at how Brawner handled his cases and wrote his decisions.
They said Brawner?s rulings and decisions were so well researched and well written that a lawyer would find it hard to elevate them on appeal.
Brawner indeed saw to it that his decisions were based on the facts of the case and the law.
?There was no room for speculation or disputable assumptions,? Gundayao, who was once a trial prosecutor in Brawner?s court, said.
True enough, Brawner?s decisions had been sustained a number of times by the Supreme Court, thus enhancing jurisprudence. These included some high-profile cases:
The case of Mikael Malmstedt, a Swedish, who was convicted for violating the drugs law after his arrest for carrying hashish in a pouch on a bus from Sagada, Mt. Province.
Brawner?s decision sparked a spirited debate among Supreme Court justices on warrantless search and seizures when the decision was elevated to the court for review.
The case of Elsie Bagista who was convicted for violating the drugs law after her arrest for carrying marijuana on a bus from Mankayan, Benguet.
These two decisions are often referred to in cases that involved warrantless search and seizures. They are often cited in bar review classes.
The case of Hector Maqueda and Rene Salvante who were convicted for robbery with homicide and serious physical injuries for killing William Horace Barker, a World Bank consultant, and for assaulting his wife, Teresita, in their house in Tuba, Benguet.
The case of the five policemen who were sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Launita Diones, Vivian Diones and Zenaida Diones in San Fernando, La Union, in 1992. The victims? relative, Myrna Diones, survived to talk about the attack.
Chicken dung is a cheap and widely used fertilizer for vegetable farmers in La Trinidad, Benguet. But in this case, Brawner ruled against 20 chicken dung dealers, saying the manure is a nuisance that should be abated. He upheld the town?s right to stop its sale in the villages of Dengshi, Tomay and Shilan since, he said, it posed hazard to the health of people in the community. Brawner?s decision was upheld by the CA in 1999.