Justice Romeo J. Callejo, Sr. during a Testimonial for Hon. Artemio V. Panganiban on April 22, 2006

Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban

THE “FOUNDING FATHER” OF PHILIPPINE JUDICIAL REFORM
By Mr. Justice ROMEO J. CALLEJO, SR (Associate Justice)

(A Testimonial for Hon. Artemio V. Panganiban, Chief Justice of the Philippines, Saturday, 22 April 2006 7:00 in the evening at the Ballroom Dusit Hotel Nikko, Makati City)

One book a year and no cases left undecided. This is Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban’s unsurpassed record and the best summation of judicial reform. Why did the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court endeavour to write one book a year? The Chief Justice provided the most convincing answer in his book “Reforming the Judiciary”. In that book, he wrote: “early on, however, we realized that the key to developing a sound reform was the ability to distinguish fact from perception. Thus, we also conducted perception surveys that provided an impression of how judges, court personnel and external stakeholders viewed the gravity of the problems. From such surveys we likewise gauged the level of public confidence in the existing judicial system. Accordingly, we were able to ground the reform program on a realistic assessment of the facts that would make our project goals more viable and consequently enhance the public image of the judiciary.” Establishing lines of communication between the courts and their stakeholders, both internal and external, and keeping the lines open-this is what the book “Reforming the Judiciary” is all about.

The good chief Justice also has to his credit an Action Program for Judicial Reform. It is a commitment of which Chief Justice Panganiban can rightly be called a “founding father”. Not only is he a member of the Committee that oversees the fruition of the program. He has also been its spokesperson. In his presentation during the round table discussion on Philippine Judicial Reforms held in Ottawa, Canada on June 19, 2002, he summarized in ten points the dimensions of the reform program to which the Philippine judiciary has dedicated itself. Consistent with the philosophical tack he has always taken, the Chief Justice examines the presuppositions and prerequisites of judicial reform with characteristic incisiveness.

Chief Justice Panganiban is also one who would assert that good governance begins with ethics. He considers the four “ins”; integrity, independence, intelligence and industry as the constituents of an ethical disposition and the beginning of all good governance. While the Supreme Court has been unrelenting and severe in dealing with judges’ misdeeds, it has always preferred a more positive approach: leading by example and teaching by present. The books of the Chief Justice attempt to remind judges what is expected of them. As importantly, in his book “Reforming the Judiciary”, the Chief Justice informs the public of the standards judges go by, for it is important that citizens realize that judges’ decisions and orders are crafted not principally to please, not to win applause and approval, but to apply the law and to do justice as the law dictates. As a department chair of Criminal Law in the Philippine Judicial Academy, I was informed that once, Chief Justice Panganiban clearly told the representatives of agencies that had offered assistance to judicial reforms that while the Supreme Court could only welcome assistance, it would nevertheless do so discriminatingly, zealously guarding its independence.

One of Chief Justice Panganiban’s earlier works was simply titled “Transparency”. He returns to the same theme in his succeeding books and fittingly so, for it is to the passion for transparency that the author’s one-book-a-year commitment may be ascribed. There can hardly be anything more helpful to the cause of transparency than keeping the public informed of the workings of the court, of its achievement, of the challenges that face it and yes, even of its disappointments. Chief Justice Panganiban always advances the thesis that transparency insofar as adjudication is concerned is the key to the acceptability of judgments by the public. This is point of utmost importance. For members of the bench, one’s popular acceptability is not the crucial criterion. It is rather the result of transparency in the fair and impartial disposition of cases.

The Greek word for reforms is metanoia but this means not just changing one’s mind. It means, above all, changing one’s heart. Chief Justice Panganiban chose as the opening passage of his book “Reforming the Judiciary” a quotation from the Gospel’s exhorting to conversion. Conversion is the order of the day not because the Court has betrayed the trust the Republic has reposed in it, but because it dedicates itself to the unrelenting, unhesitating self-examination and self-scrutiny that will allow it to be worthy of the trust the public has and ought to have in it, the confidence that has merited for it accolades not only here (witness the “Filipino of the Year 2001” recognition which Chief Justice Panganiban reflects on) but also abroad. It has set its sights on re-engineering itself, on focusing its attention and its resources on the goals of independence, credibility, and competence shoving aside every other adventitious and even tangential consideration to dwell on the “heart of the matter.” Reform and conversion these after all are matters of the heart which the Chief Justice and the entire judiciary are all together continuously working for. This auspicious testimonial dinner organized by the Asean Law Association (ALA) in cooperation with the ALAPhilippine National Committee is indeed a tribute to the major contributions of the Chief Justice to the judiciary as founding father of the Philippine judicial system.

 

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