By the time martial law was declared in September 1972, Justice J. B. L. Reyes had stepped down from the judiciary, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 on August 19 the previous month. But his admirers said, only half-jokingly, that President Marcos really waited one month more to sign the decree because he didn’t want Reyes in the Supreme Court when he imposed his despotic rule.
Such was the moral and legal authority of Jose Benedicto Luis Reyes, better known as JBL Reyes, conferred upon him by a long and distinguished career that began after he passed the bar in 1922, up to the 18 years (1954 to 1972) that he served in the highest court of the land.
He made an invaluable contribution to legal thought in the Philippines, particularly through his work in the Supreme Court, where he wrote many landmark decisions that continued to guide jurisprudence for many years.
Moreover, there was never any stain on Reyes’ personal integrity. As a jurist, his decisions were accepted by all without any doubt about his motive or subjective considerations.
Under the dictatorship, it was clear to everyone where Justice Reyes stood – on the side of human rights and the people’s aspirations for democracy. (In 1937, he was one of the founding members of the Civil Liberties Union of the Philippines and was imprisoned in Fort Santiago for activities in the anti-Japanese resistance during World War II.)
He gave wise counsel to the leaders of the anti-dictatorship opposition, and lent his name to the legal battles they were fighting. He engaged in “constructive criticism of the Supreme Court” which at the time was not much help against Marcos’ so-called constitutional authoritarianism. He served as the first elected president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), leading the country’s lawyers at a time when the rule of law had been twisted upside-down by the dictatorial regime.
After the ouster of Marcos, Reyes accepted an appointment from President Corazon Aquino to serve as acting chairman of the Presidential Commission on Human Rights, replacing Jose W. Diokno who had resigned in protest against the massacre of peasants at Mendiola in January 1987. Reyes headed the PCHR from February to May 1987.
He died on December 12, 1994 at the age of 92.
PARENTS Ricardo A. Reyes and Maria C. Luna
SPOUSE / CHILDREN Rosario L. Reyes / 3
Elementary / Secondary: Ateneo de Manila
College: Ateneo de Manila; University of the Philippines
Postgraduate: University of Santo Tomas