Reading Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban’s speech before the Georgetown law school, I get the impression that the Supreme Court chief was aiming to hit one out of the park. Or to change metaphors, he wrote a speech that he knew was destined to be one for the books. (The speech is on the Supreme Court’s useful website, but hidden under Panganiban’s biography; the court’s own news release is here.)
It is not the usual practice among our Supreme Court justices to speak of judicial philosophies, in the sense that American legal scholars speak of the judicial philosophy of, say, Felix Frankfurter or William Douglas. Panganiban’s attempt to speak plainly about his, in the middle of his all-too-short term as primus inter pares, seems to me to be a deliberate act of legacy-making.
He speaks of the "twin beacons" of liberty and prosperity, and at one point deepens his explanation by using the audience’s own history.
“Your country’s struggle for civil liberties is, of course, just as long and difficult. The freedoms you have won with so much sacrifice and sufferings have become the bedrock of your democratic system and economic progress. Indeed, those freedoms have become so inextricably linked to each other that it seems unthinkable to conceive of liberty without prosperity, or prosperity without liberty,” he said.
And in what may be called the Philippine judiciary’s version of the Catholic church’s preferential option for the poor, Panganiban waxed Magsaysay-like.
“The stark realities of poverty in our country have led our courts to realize that they can no longer turn a blind eye to the abysmal and widening gap between the rich and the poor. Thus, we have veered away from the view that courts exist in a vacuum, oblivious of their political and economic environments,” Chief Justice Panganiban said. He stressed that “the 1987 Philippine Constitution mandates the state to ‘promote a just and dynamic social order that will ensure the prosperity and independence of the nation and free the people from poverty.’”
It’s a revealing read; it explains both the recent decisions on EO 464, CPR, and PP1017 (which of course news reports about Panganiban’s speech pointed out) and the two-year-old holding (on appeal) of the equally controversial Mining Act.
may be seems that the Supreme Court really does read Inquirer editorials the occasional editorial. Last December 26, the newspaper Inquirer had written, apropos of Panganiban’s appointment:
Panganiban looks more than ready to continue Davide’s judicial reforms. He has in fact already codified the objects of his reforming zeal. He calls them Cida: corruption, incompetence, delay in justice, and lack of access to the courts and their dispute resolution mechanisms. (If we may make a suggestion, he would be better off changing the code to read Acid; these four evils, after all, have a corrosive effect on both the judiciary and on society at large.)
Just now, rooting around in the Supreme Court website, I realized that the Chief Justice had in fact changed the name of his four-part reform program. The same news report on the court’s website also carried the following paragraph.
Earlier, Chief Justice Panganiban addressed the United Nations Development Programme. In his UNDP talk, he also reiterated his commitment to continue and to revitalize reforms in the Philippine Judiciary. He said that the High Court would focus on what he called the Judiciary’s ACID problems – limited access to justice by the poor, corruption, incompetence, and delay in the delivery of quality judgments.
The new formula is right there in the Georgetown speech too, and in the Chief Justice’s homepage message. It’s enough to give one, ah, heartburn.