“A toast to good life.”
Not too long ago, I wrote an article on “the teachers who shaped us.” I reminisced about my law school days with some of my professors. One of these was Atty. Ruben F. Balane, who recently passed. He was a long-standing professor, a civil law expert, and was often compared to Justice Jose B.L. Reyes (JBL Reyes), who was known as a civil law expert during his lifetime. He was also a polymath – a person with a wide knowledge of various fields.
Our first meeting with him was for an orientation to his class – in Jesuit schools known as schola brevis – which we expected to be a quick discussion predominantly riddled with the minutiae and requirements of his subject. What we got instead was a revelation of the man’s deep understanding and mastery of Succession. We sat starstruck and in awe of a man who was articulate and ready to share his knowledge on the subject.
I never felt that I was studying to pass; I studied because I wanted to learn. I had my own notebook for his subject, writing down everything there is to write. There was no judiciousness in my note taking for Succession – everything was worth taking note of and everything was worth remembering. His eloquence and clarity greatly contributed to my surplus of notes for that subject. To this day, 30 years later, his explanations ring crystal clear in my mind, as if they were being taught by him right in front of me.
Our learning did not stop with Succession. We had sessions where he was able to weave linguistics, literature, history, travel, anthropology and philosophy to our subject matter. I was asked to recite one day, presumably about the subject, but prefaced the relevant discussion with an interrogation on the equivalents of my name in Italian (tranquillo) and Spanish (tranquilo).
He was again our Professor in a Civil Law Review class and was my group’s adviser for our “Artificial Insemination” thesis. The concept was new then, since the Family Code that introduced artificial insemination took effect only on August 3, 1988. It was also during this time that he personally invited me to join him in his firm, Balane, Barican, Tamase, and Alampay.
I barely saw him after graduating, but his reputation and the esteem regarded him always preceded him. He was nominated as a Supreme Court Associate Justice, but fate would not lead him to the Supreme Court. However, his stature as a civil law expert never waned; he continued to be recognized as a “friend of the court” or an Amicus curiae.
In the case of Anselma Diaz v. Intermediate Appellate Court, Prof. Balane, barely 50 years old in 1990, stood side by side with Civil Law giants Justice Jose B.L. Reyes, former Justice Minister Ricardo C. Puno, Dr. Arturo Tolentino, and former Justice Eduardo Caguioa. They were all invited as amici curiae by the Supreme Court to explain the term relatives in Article 992 of the New Civil Code, which reads: “An illegitimate child has no right to inherit ab intestato from the legitimate children or relatives of his father or mother; nor shall such children or relatives inherit in the same manner from the illegitimate child” (G.R. No. L-66574, February 21, 1990).
Amicus curiae Prof. Ruben Balane has this to say:
The term relatives, although used many times in the Code, is not defined by it. In accordance therefore with the canons of statutory interpretation, it should be understood to have a general and inclusive scope, inasmuch as the term is a general one. Generalia verba sunt generaliter intelligenda. That the law does not make a distinction prevents us from making one: Ubi lex non distinguit, nec nos distinguera debemus. x x x. (cited in Scaevola, op. cit., p. 457)(p. 377, Rollo).
According to Prof. Balane, to interpret the term relatives in Article 992 in a more restrictive sense than it is used and intended is not warranted by any rule of interpretation. Besides, he further states that when the law intends to use the term in a more restrictive sense, it qualifies the term with the word collateral, as in Articles 1003 and 1009 of the New Civil Code (G.R. No. L-66574, February 21, 1990).
Thus, the word relatives is a general term, and when used in a statute embraces not only collateral relatives but also all the kindred of the person spoken of, unless the context indicates that it was used in a more restrictive or limited sense – which, as already discussed earlier, is not so in the case at bar. To recapitulate, [W]e quote this: “The lines of this distinction between legitimates and illegitimates, which goes back very far in legal history, have been softened but not erased by present law” (G.R. No. L-66574, February 21, 1990)
Professor Balane was also an amicus curiae in the case of Tecson and Desiderio v. COMMELEC, Ronald Allan Kelly Poe (a.k.a. Fernando Poe, Jr), et al. (G.R. No. 161434, March 3, 2004). Nowhere in the birth certificate of respondent FPJ, presented by both parties, was the signature of Allan F. Poe (father of FPJ) found. There being no will apparently executed (or at least shown to have been executed) by decedent Allan F. Poe, the only other proof of voluntary recognition remained to be “some other public document.”
Amicus curiae Balane defined, during the oral argument, authentic writing as writing for purposes of voluntary recognition, and as simply being the genuine or indubitable writing of the father. The term would include a public instrument (one duly acknowledged before a notary public or other competent official) or private writing admitted by the father to be his (G.R. No. 161434, March 3, 2004).
On the issue of jurisprudential conclusiveness, “[T]he other amici curiae, Mr. Justice Vicente Mendoza (a former member of this Court), Professor Ruben Balane and Dean Martin Magallona, at bottom, have expressed similar views. The thesis of petitioner, unfortunately hinging solely on pure obiter dicta, should indeed fail” (G.R. No. 161434, March 3, 2004).
Perhaps the most significant consideration is that the 1935 Constitution, the fundamental law prevailing during the time of birth of respondent FPJ, can never be more explicit than it is. Providing neither conditions nor distinctions, the Constitution states that among the citizens of the Philippines are “those whose fathers are citizens of the Philippines.” There utterly is no cogent justification to prescribe conditions or distinctions where there clearly are none provided (G.R. No. 161434, March 3, 2004).
When I started teaching in the Ateneo and later in the University of the Philippines – schools both of us teach in – our paths crossed again in their hallways and parking lots, and during Ateneo deliberations. He would always initiate friendly banter when we came across each other, offering conversation over wine, and constantly telling me that we should see each other more often. This never took off, as we were both too busy; so much so that my son beat me to it.
I introduced him to Prof. Balane during an Ateneo School of Law, Faculty Seminar, and they reminisced about their days with a former teacher, Mr. Onofre Pagsanghan, as they were taught by the same Ateneo High School teacher, albeit decades apart. He even cheekily remarked, upon finding out that my son transferred to UP for graduate studies, that the best ones are those blue eagles who turn maroon.
The last time I saw Prof. Balane was a month before the pandemic, during the Committee hearing of House Bill No. 2764 or “An Act Creating the Code Commission of the Philippines to Review and Codify Philippine Laws,” where we, together with other Professors and members of the academe, were invited as resource persons. This last meeting was very memorable, as he proudly introduced three of us resource persons as his former students.
Prof. Ruben F. Balane was a Professors’ Professor. He will always be remembered for his eloquence, a presence that commands respect, and the mischievous grin he sports when savoring the fact that he knows something his students don’t. Rest in eternal peace, my professor. In Spanish, “descansa en paz eterna mi profesor” and in Italian, “riposa in pace eterna mio professore.” A toast to a good life.