SC Justice Art Brion and the Tale of the Butterfly
Art Brion is what DOLE insiders call an Ople Boy. I say that unabashedly because if you ask him this, he would confirm it.
He was still a lawyer when he and my late father crossed paths. Soon enough, the legal beagle from San Pablo City started considering working for government, which he eventually did, with Ka Blas as mentor. Art served as executive director of the Institute of Labor and Manpower Studies of the then Ministry of Labor from 1982 to 1984. He ran and won a seat at the Batasan Pambansa and served as Deputy Minister of Labor (for legal and legislative affairs) for a year, 1985 to 1986.
There was a gap in his public service record. This was the time when he opened his law firm, Natividad, Delos Reyes, Maambong & Brion at the Philippine Social Science Center along Commonwealth Avenue also upon my dad’s prodding. My father, though not a lawyer, was the tacit fifth member of the firm and the glue that brought these four gentlemen together. Teodulo Natividad, Rustico delos Reyes, Dodong Maambong and my father were together at the Constitutional Commission as representatives of the opposition. My father relied on Art Brion’s expert legal advice on many occasions, and throughout the publication of the records and transcripts of the Constitutional Commission.
After a hiatus in Canada with his family, Art came home and stayed for good with loving wife Tonette and a household of dogs. Soon enough, government service came knocking on his door. He returned to DOLE as Undersecretary for Labor Relations with another Ople protege, Patricia Sto. Tomas at its helm. Secretary Pat was assured of a steady hand and grown-up wisdom in the penning of decisions by Art. His integrity was unassailable. Then my father became Secretary of Foreign Affairs and by mutual understanding, Pat allowed Art to move to the DFA. He had the complex task of heading the DFA Overseas Absentee Voting Secretariat and shepherding the country’s very first overseas absentee elections. His newly-created position as Undersecretary for Special Concerns was questioned by some of the career officials, leading to uncomfortable moments mainly because when Art has a mandate to fulfill, he does it, never mind the ruffled feathers. Ka Blas supported him all the way.
From the DFA, Art was appointed Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals from July 2003 to June 2006. There he was with another Ople protege, Justice Maambong. Both were like fish thrown to water. Art loved the legal practice and cherished the opportunity of serving in the CA.
When Sec Pat decided that it was time to leave the DOLE and spend more time on her family, the President handpicked Art Brion to take over. It was a good transition. Pat, with her systems knowledge and reformist bent, fixed the DOLE’s organization and cleaned up OWWA. It was during her time that strikes were minimized. Sec Pat was a stern and stabilizing influence on the bureaucracy. Thereafter, Sec Brion steered the department to new horizons by opening job markets for overseas employment, notably in Canada. He raised the minimum wage of overseas domestic helpers from $200 to $400, a move for which he was roundly criticized for. It was his way of dampening demand for Filipino maids thus discouraging more welfare cases involving this highly vulnerable group.
Yesterday, Sec. Art became SC Associate Justice Brion. Last Sunday, after receiving information that his life was once again about to change, Art visited my father’s grave at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. He usually does that with his wife, more so than some of us in the family. Tonette and Art’s driver noticed a white butterfly perched on the new Justice’s shoulder. It did not flutter around or fly away. It stayed on Art’s shoulder for quite some time and hovered around him all the way from the grave to where their vehicle was parked. While Justice Art was sharing this tale of the butterfly with me over the phone, I had goosebumps. It was Ka Blas wishing his good friend and protege, Art Brion, saying how much he was proud of him and wishing him the best of luck. Justice Brion, a photography buff, must have longed to take a photo of the amazing gentle butterfly. But there are images that permanently touch the soul, when caught by the lens of an astute heart. This is one of those. Godspeed, SC Justice Art Brion. You deserve this appointment and I know you will do our country proud.