DEVOTION

It was the year 1955.
 
Only recently wed and a new member of the Philippine bar, he was just starting to think of how to create new wealth for himself and the family he had envisioned having. Intimidated by the weight of that obligation, he promptly immersed himself in what was then already a cutthroat world of commerce.
 
The architect of his own fortune, his search for financial constancy eventually led him to apply for, and land, a high paying position with a Swiss insurance firm. Recognizing that loyalty was one of his native characteristics, he knew that a long-term association with the company would guarantee him and his family a degree of stability.
 
He was the sole breadwinner—a role he would not relinquish until a couple of decades later, when his eldest son would embark on a career in the insurance industry—so it was particularly agonizing for him to admit to his wife that within only a few months on the job, he was, unfortunately, unhappy.
 
With perseverance and diligence, cleverness and intelligence, outstanding academic achievements, and a fondness for all things Swiss, upward mobility in that company was all but assured. He was convinced, however, that the nagging hollowness he was feeling would render such success meaningless. For silently, he yearned to dedicate himself to a life in the law.
 
He could not ignore that his life was being summoned to a kind of service that, beyond lawyering, also lent itself to the formation of hearts and minds.
 
On to the Ateneo
 
With the unconditional support of his wife, he resigned from that stifling employment and devoted himself to the kind of life he truly coveted: one that indispensably included the lower-compensating teaching position at the Ateneo Law School. More than 50 years later, Hector Hofileña, my father, continues to be a dedicated member of the faculty of the Ateneo Law School.
 
My father has been teaching at the Ateneo longer than I have been alive. My earliest childhood recollections include images of him sitting in the terrace, poring over blue exam booklets while plucking the hairs on his chin (a habit he launches into when he is in deep thought) and jotting down scores. Beside him would be my mother adding up the numbers as she engaged him in light banter.
 
Stacks of class cards bearing a variety of his handwritten marks held together by rubber bands were perennially among the contents of his briefcase. And very often, the family dinner conversations would turn to hilarious episodes in his class that he would gleefully share with us to our absolute amusement.
 
There was never a time when I witnessed my father having soul-wrenching doubts over his vocation. I have never even heard him grumble about the pittance of a paycheck that I speculate he received. On the contrary, he always exuded an air of gratification and serenity with his association with the Ateneo Law School. An association that now comprises over half a century of quietly teaching the law and shaping values, all done without self-indulgent pomp or fanfare.
 
Private Practice
 
During the last decade or so, my mother has, with the purest of intentions, advised my father to seriously consider retiring from his rigorous teaching regimen, and even from the practice of law itself, lest it start to take an adverse toll on his health. To her, my father’s 81-year-old weighty body, supported by a pair of spindly legs and increasingly these days, by a walking stick, can only endure so much.
 
Such concerns are certainly not unfounded for throughout all these decades, simultaneous with his almost daily teaching load and administrative responsibilities as the law school’s registrar, my father was very much a full-time, full-service, hands-on lawyer.
 
Day in and day out, he would conscientiously plod away, advising and advocating the just causes of clients big and small. His work as a private practitioner continued even when he left his office for the day, as he often brought his files and legal resources (and occasionally, a siopao) home with him. He would regularly spend a good portion of the evenings, weekends and holidays crafting pleadings and documents.
 
Having earned a reputation in private practice for industriousness, intellect and unquestioned integrity, he was appointed by President Fidel Ramos to become an Associate Justice at the Court of Appeals in 1994.
 
In the Judiciary
 
As a magistrate, my father made certain that his decisions were rendered based on what he sincerely believed to be in accordance with law and the principles of justice. At the same time, he deliberately comported himself in a manner befitting the stature of a Court of Appeals Justice, ensuring that by no means would his integrity and fitness for the position be questioned.
 
Thus, he chose not to adopt what appeared to be a curiously accepted practice among many Justices who included spouses, children or close relatives in the Court’s payroll as confidential assistants. He continued to work beyond office hours and weekdays, once again taking home voluminous case files for his review, and personally drafting up his rulings on his bedroom table. And when he retired from the Court, he was deservedly recognized for clearing his docket, a not-too-frequently-achieved goal amongst retiring justices.
 
Even after his stint with the judiciary, he ensured that he maintained personal uprightness knowing that despite retirement, he would be looked up to as an honorable member of the Philippine judiciary for the remainder of his life.
 
No Compromise
 
Despite the thoroughness that has characterized his career—both as a private practitioner and an Associate Justice—he has given no less importance to his teaching responsibilities. On each and every day that he has been an accountable lawyer and public official, he has remained as steadfast and committed to his role as a lecturer and professor of law.
 
He would not have had it any other way. He was, and is, to this day, unwilling to compromise his mission to teach.
 
Despite my mother’s occasional entreaties, my father remains disinclined to extricate himself from his daily grind. His work has defined his essence as it has allowed him to continue being who he truly is—a purposeful officer of the court, a dedicated teacher. Likewise, it has permitted him to prolong his relevance to others, a value he cares very deeply about. Devotion is often measured by how long one stays committed or, how much sacrifice one has borne or is willing to bear. in case of Hector Hofileña, professor of law at the Ateneo Law School, he has indubitably long measured up.
 
 
Joey Hofileña graduated from the Ateneo Law School in 1987 and obtained a Master of Laws degree from Harvard Law School in 1990.  He is presently a partner at SyCip Salazar Hernandez & Gatmaitan.  Joey is the fourth son of Hector L. Hofileña.