Pablo P. Garcia was one of the first lawyers of consequence I sat opposite of when I was starting my practice. He had a reputation for being a brilliant trial advocate and he did not disappoint. At the end of our first skirmish, my self-confidence was shot to pieces.
Not that I didn’t have fair warning. While still in law school, I watched him argue a celebrated adultery case before the late Court of First Instance Judge Jose Ramolete against another equally brilliant trial lawyer, Neptali Gonzales. It was entertaining as both counsels played to the jam-packed gallery, which was not unusual considering their political background. (Gonzales would later on become Senate President much earlier than when Garcia served as House Deputy Speaker.)
Their exchange was exceptionally sharp. At one point when Gonzales asked the witness to testify on a supposed tryst that was not covered by the information, Garcia quickly rose to his feet, arguing that evidence that one did or failed to do something at one time is not admissible to prove that he did or failed to do the same thing at some other time.
But Gonzales obviously came prepared, too. “This is not a spontaneous outburst of knowledge, Your Honor,” he replied, addressing the judge. “I prepared for this because I was certain that given his brilliance, the opposing counsel will raise this,” before he recited the litany of exceptions. Ramolete’s ruling was classic. “The witness may answer. The court would like to hear more.”
Our trial did not have the same depth or erudition, not Garcia’s fault but mine. The case dragged on for a couple of years until we agreed to settle it. Every hearing that we had was a learning experience for me. I grew from it. So did our relationship. I initially addressed him as “Sir” in acknowledgment less of his age than of his stature but by the time we signed our compromise agreement, he was already my Sir Pabling and he was addressing me by my first name.
I would drop by Sir Pabling’s office to say hello every now and then during his nine years at the Capitol. I was present when he had a tense meeting with some griping political allies and witnessed how calmly he handled the situation. Did he ever get angry at all? The guy was unflappable.
Two years ago in June, I spotted Sir Pabling on a wheelchair during the inauguration of his daughter Gwen at the Capitol. I approached him when the program ended to shake hands and say hello. His grip was firm and his memory sharp. Hello Frank, he said. But for the wheelchair, he was all right.
And now, two years later, he’s gone, his passing dusting off one of the last remnants of his generation of public servants who valued integrity more than anything.
Tributes will pour for Sir Pabling, I am sure. The only one that I can give is the story related to me by a contractor whose name I unfortunately can no longer recall. After he won the bidding for one of Sir Pabling’s projects, the contractor approached him to offer his “SOP” but the then congressman rejected the offer, saying he was not into the habit of receiving cuts for his projects. Hearing this, the contractor turned pale, expecting a tongue-lashing. It did not happen. “Just do your job well” was all that he heard.
I told you. Sir Pabling was unflappable.