Towards a Just World Society

Address delivered by retired Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban before the Asia Field Representatives Meeting (FRM) of the Canadian International Development Agency on May 8, 2008 at the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel Ballroom, Mandaluyong City

One of the most memorable episodes of my judicial career is my Encounter with the Supreme Court of Canada. The Chief Justice of Canada, the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, P.C., hosted lunch at the inner sanctum – the Judges’ Dining Room – of the Canadian Court in Ottawa on that fine, sunny Tuesday, June 18, 2002. After breaking bread, we were ushered to one of the Court’s internal conference rooms where we had a lively discussion with our hosts, the Canadian justices.

An Encounter with Canadian Justices

To start the dialogue, Senior Justice (now retired) Claire L’Heureux-Dube remarked, “I notice that your decisions in the Philippines liberally quote from the US Supreme Court, especially from Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes, Hugo Black and Felix Frankfurter. However, I have yet to see one that cites our Supreme Court or our Canadian justices.”

For a moment, our delegation, composed of then Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide Jr, Justice Ameurfina A. Melencio Herrera (Chancellor of the Philippine Judicial Academy) and yours truly, was stunned to speechlessness. But after a second or two of silence, I found my tongue and replied, “I must admit that Your Honor is correct. In its over 100 years of history, our Supreme Court has not used a Canadian precedent to buttress its judgments. But may I also venture my respectful observation that I, too, have yet to read a Canadian decision citing the Philippine Supreme Court.”

That exchange of banter broke the proverbial ice, so to speak, of our more in-depth discussions on the role of the judiciary in our respective nations’ history and development. May I also say that I took the banter to heart. After returning to the Philippines, I penned a decision, People vs Genosa (G.R. 135981, Jan. 15, 2004), adopting for the first time the “battered woman syndrome” as a form of self-defense, or at least a mitigating circumstance, in a prosecution for parricide committed by a wife against her husband. In that landmark case, I expressly cited a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada as authority. I made sure that a copy was sent to the justices in Ottawa.

That encounter on June 18, 2002 may have been a minor incident in the great history of the Canadian Court, but it was a major event of my judicial career. I even remember the menu served: onion soup, gingered steak with nappa cabbage salad, vanilla ice cream with fresh fruits and coffee/tea. Indeed, it is not everyday that the Canadian Supreme Court goes out of its somber ways to host and banter with jurists from a little country half way across the globe.

I used that opportunity to invite Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin to visit us, which she did in October 2006. She attended the Global Forum on Liberty and Prosperity, which I convened when I was already Chief Justice of our country. She also received an honorary doctoral degree from the Ateneo de Manila University.

What is the relevance of this June 18, 2002 encounter to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and your Field Representatives Meeting today? Plenty. It was CIDA that arranged our visit to Ottawa and to the Supreme Court of Canada on the occasion of the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement establishing the Judicial Reform Initiative Support Project, more popularly known as JURIS. On the morning of that fateful lunch at the Canadian Supreme Court, the MOU was signed by our Chief Justice Davide and by Canadian Minister of International Cooperation Susan Whelan, witnessed by Justice Herrera and yours truly.

JURIS aims to help improve the quality of Philippine judicial services and access to justice, especially of the poor and marginalized sector, by supporting specific items of our on-going Action Program for Judicial Reform (APJR). JURIS has three major components, namely, 1) court-annexed mediation (CAM) and judicial dispute resolution (JDR); 2) continuing education and training for judges and court personnel; and 3) networking and collaboration between the judiciary and civil society represented by alternative law groups (ALGs).

My Vision-Mission Statement

In this address, I shall not bore you with the details of JURIS and of our APJR. I will instead stress on the big picture. What is the ultimate objective of our judicial reform that CIDA is so supportive of? To simplify the answer, let me go back to my vision-mission statement when I assumed the Chief Justiceship of my country in 2005. On that occasion, I made the following pledge:

“I vow to lead a judiciary characterized by four Ins: independence, integrity, industry and intelligence; one that is morally courageous to resist influence, interference, indifference, and insolence. I envision a judiciary that is impervious to the plague of ‘ships:’ kinship, relationship, friendship and fellowship.

“I pledge to continue and strengthen the Supreme Court’s on-going Action Program for Judicial Reform (APJR) with special focus on what I call the four ACID problems that corrode justice in our country: 1) limited access to justice by the poor; (2) corruption; (3) incompetence; and, (4) delay in the delivery of quality judgments.

“I look for ethical and competent lawyers (or EC, as in easy) who are responsible, dependable, and morally upright; and who courageously uphold truth and justice above everything else.

“I shall grant maximum financial and fringe benefits to our 26,000 employees nationwide from whom, in turn, I ask for three things, encapsulated in the abbreviation DHL: (1) dedication to service; (2) honesty in every way, and (3) loyalty to the Supreme Court.

“All the foregoing visions and objectives must lead to the two ultimate goals of safeguarding the liberty and nurturing the prosperity of our people under the rule of law.

“These twin beacons of LIBERTY and PROSPERITY under the RULE OF LAW constitute my core judicial philosophy.”

The key words of my foregoing vision-mission statement; namely, the four ins of independence, integrity, industry and intelligence; the ACID problems that need to be solved; the ethical and competent, or EC, goals for the bar; and the DHL motto for judicial personnel all lead to my grand vision of liberty and prosperity under the rule of law for our people. Let me say a few more words about this grand vision.

Safeguarding Liberty

Safeguarding the liberty of our people is the traditional forte of the judiciary. The history of the world shows a long and arduous road to freedom. From the Magna Carta of the British to the French Revolution, and from the Declaration of Independence of the Americans to the struggle for nationhood of the Filipinos, calls for civil and political liberties reverberated in the annals of our past. Liberté, égalité, fraternité, ou la mort! Tierra y libertad! Mabuhay ang Republika ng Pilipinas! Give me liberty or give me death! These were some of the battle cries for nationhood and freedom.

Indeed, history rings for peoples’ right to be free — free to live peacefully, to earn a living, to participate in political processes, to vote and to be voted for; as well as to speak, to assemble peaceably for a redress of grievances, and to worship one’s Creator the way one deigns, among others.

In these battles to uphold freedom throughout the past centuries, the judiciaries of the world have had to cope and innovate with a never-ending saga of fortitude and forthrightness. So, too, must they now face up to new challenges brought about by the advances in technology and the demands of our global community. Thus, even now, laws and judicial doctrines safeguarding liberty are continuously tested to the limits.

Nurturing Prosperity

While the safeguarding of liberty is a traditional and fairly common task for the judiciary, the nurturing of prosperity may not be too familiar to the courts. Some jurisdictions may even take the view that the judiciary need not exert conscious thought and effort to nurture progress. Nonetheless, I maintain that whatever the status of a country’s economic progress, courts must contribute to the achievement or nurturance of prosperity; or, at the very least, to the alleviation of poverty, disease and disability. Important world events impel me to advocate a necessary — nay, indispensable — nexus between political liberty and economic prosperity.

First. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948, has emerged as the fundamental law of human rights. The UDHR recognizes the entitlement of the common people to liberty and prosperity. This fact is evident in the following provisions of its Preamble:

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
x x x x x x x x x
“Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,”

The UDHR also recognizes — aside from the basic right to life, liberty and security of persons (Articles 3 to 21) — their right to economic, cultural and social rights (Articles 22 to 27).

In the Philippines, our 1987 Constitution commands 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, Article XII on the National Economy and Patrimony mandates “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.” Our Constitution likewise demands the institutionalization of social justice.

Second. Another impetus to my twin advocacies pertains to developments in the private sector. More and more people around the world are realizing the need to fight poverty and deprivation and are pooling enormous resources and talents to combat this common menace.

For starters, Time magazine’s “Persons of the Year” for 2005 — the world’s richest multi-billionaire couple, Bill and Melinda Gates — staged their own campaign for vaccinations and public health care. Their target: to save 700,000 lives.

Billionaire investment guru Warren Buffett has joined their crusade with a mind-boggling $30 billion donation of blue-chip Berkshire Hathaway stocks to the Gates Foundation.

Last September 2006, billionaire-financier George Soros announced that he was contributing $50 million to the Millenium Villages Project. This nongovernmental initiative seeks to show that closely focused development projects can alleviate severe poverty within a few years.

Even the famed Nobel Peace Foundation has veered its lenses to poverty alleviation, as it awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Bangladeshi Muhammad Yunus on October 14, 2006. He and his Grameen Bank had pioneered micro credit and proved that the poor’s misfortunes could be transformed by helping them become self-employed. Over 6.6 million impoverished Bangladeshis have availed themselves of micro loans.

Philanthropic endeavors in Asia have likewise brought back hope to the homeless, the blind, the poor, and the neglected. In 2006, six exceptional Asians and one exemplary organization were granted the Ramon Magsaysay Awards — Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize. One of the awardees, the Gawad Kalinga Community Development Foundation has been largely instrumental in building private mass housing projects for slum dwellers in the Philippines.

Third. Still another factor behind the call for both liberty and prosperity is the growing consensus among international developmental institutions that a stable judiciary and a firmly established rule-of-law system are necessary means to achieve liberty and prosperity. Institutions, like the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the World Bank (WB), and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have realized that poverty alleviation and economic growth cannot be attained, unless there is “a well-functioning judicial system [that] enables the State to regulate the economy and empower private individuals to contribute to economic development by confidently engaging in business, investments and other transactions.”

This stance explains why the UNDP is passionate about broadening the poor’s access to justice; why the WB wants “an effective and efficient judicial system that protects citizens from the abuses of government and safeguards the rights of the poor”; and why the ADB desires “to enhance the effectiveness and the accountability of the judiciary.”

The Rule of Law

Now, it is not enough that the goals espoused are laudable. It is equally important that the means employed to reach them is equally dependable. So, liberty and prosperity as goals must be attained through the rule of law. The rule of law reigns when a country is governed according to the constitution and the laws enacted by representatives chosen democratically by the people, not pursuant to the wiles and whims of the rulers.

Under the rule of law, the policies and actions of the governors are transparent, predictable and stable. The elected officials are accountable to the people, politically through periodic elections. Appointive high officials on the other hand are accountable through the process of impeachment. Both the elected and the appointed are criminally and administratively answerable through courts of justice that are independent and competent. Elections are conducted peacefully, freely and honestly thereby insuring that the true will of the majority prevails.

At bottom, development and economic well-being are the desiderata of all nations and all peoples. The rule of law makes development stable and sustainable over the long term, because it is the guarantee against the temporary tempest of political storms and partisan wrangling. The rule of law warrants long term equality of opportunity and respect for humanity, regardless of race, color or creed.

My vision as a jurist goes beyond the normal, traditional area of judicial advocacy because I believe that present day realities require not only the promotion of political and civil liberties but also of economic and social rights. Of what relevance is free speech to people who are hobbled by grinding poverty, debilitating disease or permanent physical disability. Our people need both justice and jobs, freedom and food, integrity and investments, ethics and economics, democracy and development; in short, liberty and prosperity under the rule of law.

The Canadian Good Life

In Canada, this aspiration for the good life; the good life of liberty and prosperity under the rule of law was captured by your great Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau in his advocacy of “the just society.” It is a vision that Canadians embrace, a vision that Canadians want to share with the world.

But what does “just society” mean? According to Chief Justice McLachlin in her address upon receiving her honorary doctorate from the Ateneo de Manila University, it means, “a society governed by the rule of law and built on the values of democracy, equality and liberty. It means a society in which all can participate, where all can pursue a dream, where all enjoy basic liberties of expression, association and movement. It means a society where everyone, regardless of race, creed or ethnic background, has a place.”

Beyond Canada, there is a teeming world of people, there is a sea of humanity seeking the same blessings of a just society, aspiring for the same dream to enjoy the basic freedoms of expression, association and movement and to live in a nation of liberty and prosperity under the rule of law.

The peoples of the Philippines and the world are aflame with gratitude and praise for Canada because Canadians want to share the blessings of their just society with the rest of mankind through the Canadian International Development Agency.

If my 20-minute address today should be remembered at all, may it be my aspiration for liberty and prosperity under the rule of law that I believe is a little foreshadow of Canada’s “just society.” Indeed, your conference being held in my country this May 6-10, 2008 deserves the applause and appreciation of all Filipinos, because you are discussing and finalizing your plans and programs to share with all the peoples of our Asian region your vision and blessings of the Canadian just society. May your Asia Field Representatives Meeting propel the earth towards the creation and promotion of “the just world society.”

Maraming salamat po.


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