OSCAR T. CASTELO
Oscar T. Castelo, as judge of the Manila Court of first Instance, expressed a rightful censure on our antiquated system of laws in a decision on an ejection case in favor of a tenant that "a 16th century law has no place in a 20th century generation ruled by a democratic government." He was merely confirming charges that a great portion of our laws is much too antiquated to be of benefit to civilized society. For that matter, a large majority of the judges have not outgrown the medieval mentality that gave birth to the outworn laws many of which are still in the statute books of the Republic of the Philippines. As a matter of fact, that was not the only occasion when the young judge of Manila had pointed to the urgent need of effecting progressive reforms in our jurisprudence, a prerequisite which has posed a challenge for a long time now if we must adjust successfully our society to the atomic era we are in.
As a judge who had the fortune, or is it misfortune to try and render judgment on some half a dozen sensational cases from the viewpoint of their news value, Castelo had the opportunity to issue warning to the people that in order to protect society a necessary deterrent must be established against crime by imposing the maximum penalty allowed by law to those "who know no mercy and show no respect for justice".
In the case of the murder of judge Basilio Bautista and his son Crispin in Malabon, Rizal on September 7, 1947, he stated in his decision imposing death penalty to the three principals: "It is about time that the Courts of Justice should open their eyes to realities and join hands with other branches of the Government in the suppression of lawlessness by applying the law to its full measure without fear or favor.
But applying the law to its full measure and advocating essential reforms to our substantive laws were not all that evoked acclaim for him from the press and the general public. His passion for "swift justice" is today "justice's most pressing need", in the words of a popular newspaper columnist. Castelo realized that, and in the Bautista and Lilian Velez murder cases of recent dates, he heard and decided them in record time, even if he had to hold extra long sessions morning and afternoon, of course without prejudice to the interests of the accused. And Manila Times columnist, Joaquin R. Roces, was right when he said that, "it is not justice so much that the criminals fear as swift justice".
His appointment to the Judiciary in 1946 cut short his brief career as racket buster and had he remained longer as investigator of the rampant irregularities in the City of Manila and also in the national governments, he could have acquitted himself very creditably as a terror of crooks, grafters and criminals, who prey upon state coffers and the innocent public. Nevertheless, the city's loss proved to be the judiciary's gain.
This is borne out through a careful analysis of his most recent decisions in which the law and its application constitute society's organized efforts to give man the widest possible enjoyment of his freedom. Hence, man is not made for the law, but the law, instead, is made for men.
This two-fisted judge hit the limelight after liberation when as assistant City fiscal of Manila, he was given an important assignment to investigate a City Hall racket on the illegal issuance of licenses. The scandal resulted in the dismissal, reprimand and resignation of officials and employees of the city treasurer's office, although the real masterminds (who, incidentally, were the ones who profited most, from the irregular transactions) got away with their crimes on account of their tremendous influence. But the public had been apprised of the anomalies and those directly responsible for them were recommended for prosecution. Nevertheless, Justice Castelo had so shown his fearlessness and diligence in tracking down crooks and grafters that he was subsequently appointed Cadastral Judge in July 1946 with assignment in Batangas.
But Judge Castelo had been with the Department of Justice since 1931, and his climb to his position in the judiciary had been slow and dragging. He was first appointed provincial fiscal of Nueva Ecija in 1931, remaining in that position for nine years. In 1940, he was named Assistant City Attorney of Quezon City and promoted to city attorney in the same year. He served for a year as assistant fiscal in Manila during the occupation and then joined the underground movement taking active in the propaganda and counter-intelligence work in the PQOC unit.
Upon the restoration of civil government following the liberation of Manila, Judge Castelo was appointed Assistant City fiscal of the capital and after that brief but spectacular career, he was elevated to the judiciary of which he was the most progressive and industrious member.
The few criminal cases that had come before his court in his short assignment in Rizal provided an opportunity for the young judge from Nueva Ecija to demonstrate more unhampered his uprightness, fearlessness and intelligence. Not only were his decisions characterized by resolution, they were philosophical and literary as well. They remain among the best written decisions handed down by the lower courts of the Republic of the Philippines. Moreover, they are examples of progressive and independent thinking and judgment, the essential attributes of a judiciary that is truly the last bulwark of the people's rights.
The Benjamin of the Manila judges was born in Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija on May 20, 1903 of a well-to-do-family in the province. He went to school in san Juan de Letran in Manila and then to the Escuela de Derecho, the forerunner of the Manila Law College. Before taking his law, he first obtained his A.B. He was admitted to the Philippine Bar in 1927 and was equally fluent in English and Spanish.
He became Secretary of National Defense during the term of President Elpidio R. Quirino when Secretary Ramon F. Magsaysay resigned in February 28, 1953 to run for the presidency. He served as Defense Secretary from March 1 to December 19, 1953 until Magsaysay assumed the post in concurrent capacity as president and Defense Secretary from January 1 to May 14, 1954.
Judge Castelo was married to the former Miss Pura Ballesteros by whom he had four children. Following the footstep of his father, the eldest Castelo boy took up law at the Far Eastern University.