Striking the Right Balance

Keynote speech delivered by Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban on November 29, 2006 during the Fourth Conference of Asian Constitutional Court Judges at the Diamond Hotel, Manila.

Good morning! I am certainly glad to be part of your two-day conference. I realize, however, that our Supreme Court in the Philippines does not have an exact counterpart in your own systems.

Otherwise stated, the Philippines, unlike your countries, does not have a separate constitutional court. Its functions and duties are discharged by our Supreme Court. It must also be noted that, unlike the Philippine Supreme Court, many constitutional courts have the power to rule on the constitutionality not only of organic laws and regulations, but also of their drafts or the prospective effect of a constitutional provision. I understand that they even rule on resolutions made by political parties as well as the status of members of the legislature.

The differences are best explained by our different systems of government. Ours was patterned after the American presidential system; hence, we have only one court at the apex, the Supreme Court. It is this tribunal that passes upon the constitutionality of laws and executive issuances, and also upon some other matters that would fall under the jurisdiction of your constitutional courts.

Whether or not our government will transform into the parliamentary system—as some quarters are actively espousing—is a question that has yet to be decided by the proper authorities. I am, however, in no position to talk about this matter right now, as it may be deemed sub judice.

Conflicts of Rights

Let me say, however, that the theme you have chosen for this conference is extremely interesting and thought-provoking, because it mirrors or suggests a number of realities existing in our respective jurisdictions. To start with, it acknowledges that in many of our countries, occasional clashes do occur between and among different sectors of society. Notwithstanding these skirmishes, our courts are evidently determined to strike the proper balance that this conference is determined to devote itself to.

Going through the topics for the sessions scheduled for today and tomorrow, I myself am reminded of recent constitutional issues that our Supreme Court had to tackle and the delicate balancing act it had to perform in weighing and deciding issues.

Civil, Political and Economic Rights

Our history shows that civil and political rights, particularly those enshrined in our Bill of Rights, have been zealously guarded and upheld.

Indeed, courts are expected to safeguard liberty. Their role is to be the great equalizers when individual freedoms—whether civil, political or economic—are buffeted by the awesome powers of the State and governmental institutions. These epic constitutional struggles between the government and its citizens are written in the annals of Philippine history, there to be invoked over and over, as often as challenges to individual liberty persist.

Economic Rights

Other parts of our Constitution, however, enunciate economic rights as well. The Article on Principles and State Policies directs 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 x x x.”

Equally significant is Article XII, which is devoted in its entirety to the National Economy and Patrimony, the goals of which are set forth without equivocation: “a more equitable distribution of opportunities, income and wealth; a sustained increase in the amount of goods and services produced by the nation for the benefit of the people; and an expanding productivity as the key to raising the quality of life for all, especially the underprivileged.”

Mandate for Social Justice

It is also clear that the institutionalization of social justice is demanded by the spirit and the letter of our Constitution, which expressly ordains as follows:

“The Congress shall give highest priority to the enactment of measures that protect and enhance the right of all the people to human dignity, reduce social, economic and political inequalities, and remove cultural inequities by equitably diffusing wealth and political power for the common good.

“To this end, the State shall regulate the acquisition, ownership, use and disposition of property and its increments.”

But the Constitution does not end by merely directing that priority be given to social justice. It further decrees that “the promotion of social justice shall include the commitment to create economic opportunities based on freedom of initiative and self-reliance.” In so doing, it subscribes to the classical thought that social justice is a matter of distributive justice; that is, all social groups must participate equitably in the resources, the patrimony and the progress of the nation. Hence, the systematic and systemic exclusion of any social group from the blessings of prosperity constitutes social injustice.

Liberty and Prosperity as Standards of Review

The equally important demands of liberty and the needs of prosperity have come before the Supreme Court at various times in our history and, over the last two decades, have continued to increase in number. Cases decided over the last ten years, in particular, reveal that the Court has adopted two standards of review, which I have referred to as the twin beacons of Liberty and Prosperity under the rule of law.

First, in cases involving liberty, the scales of justice have weighed heavily against government and in favor of the people, especially the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the dispossessed and the weak. Laws and actions of government and its instrumentalities come to the court highly suspect in their constitutional validity, whenever they restrict the fundamental rights of our people.

Second, in cases involving prosperity and development issues, deference is accorded to the political branches of government; namely, the Presidency and Congress.

Thus, while cases on civil and political freedoms have highlighted the need for strict scrutiny, the High Court has adopted a deferential stance in controversies involving the merits or wisdom of economic policies.

This judicial no-interference rule on economic policy does not mean, though, that the courts will abdicate their duty to strike down (1) gravely abusive legislative or executive acts that clearly violate the Constitution, the laws, or settled jurisprudence; or (2) those that have been issued with arbitrariness, whim, caprice, bias or personal hostility. This policy is, as it should be, because judicial power as enshrined in our Constitution includes not only “the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable.” Judicial power, as constitutionally decreed, is also the duty “to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government.”

Out of these judicial imperatives in my country, I have adopted the twin beacons of Liberty and Prosperity under the rule of law as the core judicial philosophy of my chief justiceship. Stated more positively, it is my vision to lead a judiciary that safeguards the liberty and nurtures the prosperity of our people under the rule of law.

The Right Balance

How to find the right balance between the two paradigms is a continuing endeavor of our courts. To the extent that cases have to be judged in the context of concrete facts and circumstances, that balance may continuously shift. What is crystal-clear, though, is that both liberty and prosperity must be pursued hand in hand under the rule of law.

Finding the right balance is indeed a country-to-country search depending on the history, culture, environment, habits and mores in each jurisdiction. This statement was proven to be a truism during the recently concluded Global Forum on Liberty and Prosperity hosted by our Supreme Court on October 18-20, 2006.

While there was unanimity on the need to pursue both liberty and prosperity, there was also the caveat that each country must pursue internally its own quest for its own philosophical and jurisprudential identity.

Indeed, while most economically advanced countries like the United States and most of the nations comprising the European Union had adopted liberal democracy, in which human rights are zealously protected, there are other models of economic prosperity that could not be ignored, like those of China and Chile, which have shown remarkable economic growth.

To my mind, the peculiar facts and distinct circumstances of the Philippines make the formula Liberty and Prosperity still the most viable economic and judicial philosophy here. After all, during the years of Martial Law, authoritarian rule was proven to be incapable of producing meaningful long-term economic progress. Even more important, our people value their freedoms very dearly and will not exchange them for food. Indeed, the Filipinos may endure occasional hunger, but they will never tolerate injustice and indignity for long.


In the present conference, every jurisdiction represented may have also faced novel, complex, and contentious issues, such as those I have mentioned. Indeed, every jurisdiction has to grapple with its problems and find its solutions in the context of its unique circumstances. The right balance in one country may entirely be different from that in another.

During Session 3, this conference should be able to bring out various experiences as you share and listen to the country presentations on important decisions on constitutional matters and recent developments around Asia.

Finally, I wish the Asian constitutional courts good speed and success in finding and striking the right balance between the sometimes contending demands and jurisdictions of the state, culture and religion; and, if I may add, those of safeguarding the liberty and nurturing the prosperity of our peoples.

Thank you very much. Maraming salamat po.


Keynote speech delivered by Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban on November 29, 2006 during the Fourth Conference of Asian Constitutional Court Judges at the Diamond Hotel, Manila.

Art. II, Sec. 9.

Art. XII, Sec. 1.

Art. XIII, Sec. 1.

Art. XIII, Sec. 2

Some of these cases are as follows:

ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation v. Commission on Elections, 380 Phil. 780, January 28, 2000, per Panganiban, J. In this case, the prohibition on election exit polls was challenged. In resolving to allow the holding of exit polls and the dissemination of their results through mass media, the Supreme Court declared that public opinion polls “constitute an essential part of the freedoms of speech and of the press.”

Social Weather Stations v. Comelec, 357 SCRA 496, 501, May 5, 2001, per Mendoza, J. The Court stressed that “because of the preferred status of the constitutional rights of speech, expression, and the press, a law prohibiting the publication of pre-election surveys is vitiated by a weighty presumption of invalidity.”

Lumanlaw v Peralta, GR No. 164963, February 13, 2006, per Panganiban, CJ. The Court condemned the ”[v]exatious, oppressive, unjustified and capricious delays in the arraignment” of the accused as violations of the constitutional right to speedy trial and speedy case disposition. For almost two years, the accused had been detained without undergoing arraignment, despite 14 attempts at the proceeding.

This deference to the economic policies was illustrated in the following cases, among others:

Tañada v. Angara, 338 Phil. 546, 604-605, May 2, 1997, per Panganiban, J. the Court deferred to the wisdom of the Senate when it upheld that legislative body’s consent to the Philippine ratification of the World Trade Organization Agreement.

La Bugal-B’laan Tribal Association v. Ramos, 445 SCRA 1, December 1, 2004, per Panganiban, J. Here, the Court affirmed the constitutionality of the Mining Law allowing 100-percent foreign investments in large-scale mining. The constitutionality of the law was re-affirmed in Didipio Earth Savers Multi-Purpose Association v. Gozun (GR No. 157882, March 30, 2006, per Nazario, J.).

Republic v. COCOFED, 423 Phil. 735, December 14, 2001.

Benito v. Comelec, 349 SCRA 705, January 19, 2001; Defensor-Santiago v. Guingona Jr., 359 Phil. 276, November 18, 1998; and Philippine Airlines, Inc. v. Confesor, 231 SCRA 41, March 10, 1994.

Art. VII, Sec. 1.


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