Leadership During Challenging Times

Address delivered by retired Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban during the “Leadership Series II With Former Prime Minister Tony Blair” held on March 23, 2009 at the Sofitel Plaza Hotel, Pasay City

I thank Mrs. Ma. Yolanda V. Ong, Group Chairperson of Campaigns and Grey, for inviting me as a speaker during “this Leadership Conference Series, Part II with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.” If this convocation were a concert, I would be doing the front act to whet the appetite of the audience. But whether I am in front, at the middle or at the end of today’s program, I could not have resisted Mrs. Ong’s invitation.

Fame and Tony Blair

Why? Let me explain with a favorite Rotary joke about the word “fame.” Fame, according to one Rotarian, is “being invited to 10 Downing Street to visit Prime Minister Tony Blair.” A second Rotarian corrected him and said, “Fame is meeting Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street and when the phone rings, he ignores it and continues conversing with you.” A third Rotarian was wittier with this puncher, “Fame is visiting Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street and when the phone rings, he answers it, listens a minute, hands it to you and says, ‘Here, it is for you!’”

If Yoly Ong were a Rotarian, fame would be inviting Tony Blair to the Philippines and asking me to speak on the same afternoon, at the same platform, before the same audience, on the same topic of leadership, and preempting Mr. Blair by making me speak ahead of him.

But Yoly didn’t really need fame or Tony Blair for me to obey her command. From a distance, I know her to be a kindred spirit and a staunch admirer of our mutual friend, the late Senator Raul S. Roco, who was my contemporary in the National Union of Students of the Philippines. In fact, to begin my address this afternoon, I will borrow the spiel Yoly narrated to explain Senator Roco’s “theory of balance.”

It goes this way: Saudi Arabia is practically all desert, so God put the richest oil fields beneath its sands. Scandinavian countries have cold, dark days all year long, so the Lord gave them Nokia and Ericsson so people could connect even in the dead of winter. Then St. Michael pointed to the Philippines, which seemed to have it all – rich natural resources, beautiful beaches, fertile soil and talented people. God winked to St. Michael and said, “Have you seen the kind of leaders they have?”

Corrupt and Untrustworthy

How, indeed, do our people perceive the “kind of leaders they have?” Let us consult the surveys. To the question: “In your opinion, under which administration has there been the most intense allegation of corruption?” a Pulse Asia face-to-face survey conducted on October 30-31, 2007 revealed the following replies in percentages: Arroyo administration, 45 percent; Marcos, 31 percent; Estrada, 14 percent; Ramos, 7 percent; Aquino, 1 percent; and none, refused to answer/can’t say, 1 percent.

To the more specific question “In your opinion, which president is the most corrupt in the history of the Philippines?” the answers were: Gloria Arroyo, 42 percent; Ferdinand Marcos, 35 percent; Joseph Estrada, 16 percent; Fidel Ramos, 5 percent; Corazon Aquino, 1 percent; and none/refused to answer/can’t say, 1 percent.

The Social Weather Stations Survey of Enterprises on Corruption made a more recent study on graft. On September 9 to October 10, 2008, SWS interviewed managers from 402 different companies in Metro Manila, Cebu City and Davao City. A staggering 71 percent said they had been blatantly asked for bribes in connection with their dealings with government, like when they secured business permits, paid customs duties and income taxes, supplied the government with goods and services, or availed of government incentives.

Small wonder then, the latest SWS survey on the President’s performance show a “bad net rating” of minus 32 percent in the February 20-23, 2009 poll, compared with minus 24 percent in December, 2008, minus 27 percent in September 2008 and minus 50 percent in July 2008.

Worldwide Perception

This appalling perception of our people is reflected worldwide. A 2008 World Bank Study shows that our country’s effort to control corruption worsened from 45 percent in 1996 during the term of President Fidel V. Ramos to only 22 percent in 2007 during the incumbency of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The WB study shows that the Philippines edged out Indonesia for the dubious title of being the most corrupt nation in East Asia, with Singapore as the least corrupt, followed by Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, China, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines as the cellar dweller.

That World Bank report validated earlier studies showing that corruption in our country had worsened. The German-based, global corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI) downgraded the Philippines from its ranking as the 121st most corrupt country in 2006 to 131st in 2007 to 141st in 2008, well below that of Mongolia (102), Nigeria (115), Ethiopia and Indonesia (both tied at 126). Somalia, the notorious home of pirates in Africa, was rated the most corrupt at the 180th place.

On the other hand, the Washington, DC-based Global Integrity Index gave the Philippines a “moderate” corruption rating of 71 (out of 100 percent) because of the many “world-class” constitutional and legal anti-corruption safeguards in our country. However, it rated our country a poor 53 in “actual implementation.”

In his inspiring and sparkling inaugural address, US President Barack Obama warned corrupt regimes, “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history but we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fists.” Will our leaders unclench their fists?

Human Rights Violations

Our government is known not only for its shameless corruption. It also has an embarrassing reputation for violating human rights. According to Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Leila M. de Lima during her speech commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights last December 2008, our country’s overall record is “dismal.” She deplored the recent resurgence of extra judicial killings and enforced disappearances “with the Armed Forces as the primary suspect.”

She eloquently declared, “We have not seen a single conviction in the cases of extralegal killings, enforced disappearances and torture. We have not seen a sufficient supply of adequate housing for all Filipinos, (or) an equitable distribution of wealth and land, (or) compensation for the injured during operations of State security forces, (or) a lasting peace agreement between the government and the insurgent communities in the South, (or) enough prosecutions by the Ombudsman, (or) the light at the tunnel’s end in our fight against corruption, (or) decent education available to every single Filipino child, (or) speedy justice for the thousands who languish in jails without finality of their court cases, (or) true and equal accessibility to employment for the disabled, (or) the right of suffrage available to all, (or) the full protection of the vote of those who exercise their right to suffrage, (or) the end of the suppression of the freedom of speech, of expression and assembly.”

During the same occasion, Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, lamented that the observance of Human Rights Day “gives us a feeling of shame and embarrassment because of the innumerable human rights violations that have remained unexamined, unexplained and unsolved or covered up by events.”

According to a news report printed on December 10, 2008, the human rights group Karapatan documented 977 victims of extra judicial killings, 1,010 victims of torture and 1,464 victims of illegal arrest during the eight years of the Arroyo administration.
The harrowing tale narrated by Raymond Manalo of his, and his brother Reynaldo’s torture (as well as that of missing UP students Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan) at the hands of the Armed Forces of the Philippines aired in ANC’s “Storyline” two months ago should convince even the most jaded among us of the urgent need to vindicate human right violations in our country.

In its “Country Report on Human Rights Practices” dated February 25, 2009, the US State Department confirmed that “(a)rbitrary, unlawful, and extra judicial killings by elements of the security services and political killings, including killings of journalists, by a variety of actors continued to be major problems. In recent years, following increased domestic and international scrutiny, reforms were undertaken and the number of killings and disappearances dropped dramatically. (But) concerns about impunity persisted. Members of the security services committed acts of physical and psychological abuse on suspects and detainees, and there were instances of torture. Prisoners awaiting trial and those already convicted were often held under primitive conditions. Disappearances occurred, and arbitrary or warrantless arrests and detentions were common. Trials were delayed, and procedures were prolonged. Corruption was a problem throughout the criminal justice system. Leftwing and human rights activists often were subjected to harassment by local security forces. Problems such as violence against women, abuse of children, child prostitution, trafficking in persons, child labor, and ineffective enforcement of worker rights were common.”

Two weeks ago, the European Parliament expressed “grave concern at the hundreds of cases of extra judicial killings of political activists and journalists that have occurred in recent years in the Philippines and the role that the security forces have played in orchestrating and perpetuating those murders.” Speaking before the Asean National Human Rights Institution Forum last March 17, Ambassador Alistair MacDonald of the European Union said “Here in the Philippines, I cannot speak of human rights without condemning the recent killings of Rebelyn Pitao in Davao and Eleazar Billanes in Koronadal.”
Governments Response

In the swirl of this dismal and worsening track record of corruption and human right violations in our country, what has been the response of our leaders and policy makers?

I am afraid mostly rhetoric, evasiveness and finger-pointing, like calling TI biased and suggesting it had been bought by the opposition, or ignoring the World Bank reports and hoping its jarring findings would slip into oblivion, or proposing some kind of authoritarian rule and shooting drug suspects like Ferdinand Marcos did, or condemning our presidential form of government and instituting the parliamentary system as the end-all remedy to the ills of governance, or dismissing President Obama’s warning and saying that all governments in the world are corrupt anyway (Susmariosep!).

For too long, our people have waited for vindication, for honest-to-goodness prosecution of monster grafters and human right violators. Many in civil society have lamented the alleged inaction and imprudent actions of the Office of the Ombudsman. Some have taken the extreme measure of filing an impeachment complaint against the incumbent Ombudsman. As to whether the impeachment will be a sufficient solution remains to be seen considering that it is treated more as a political – rather than a legal – process.

Great Institutions But Poor Implementation

As keenly observed by the recent Global Integrity Report I cited earlier, our Constitution established democratic institutions, like the Office of the Ombudsman, the Commission on Audit and other government offices, to assure good governance and to check abuses.

However, in actual implementation, these institutions have failed to discharge their functions as expected. It still takes morally courageous and competent incumbents to make these institutions work. The problem is that the cancer of incompetence, shoddiness and deference to the appointing authority, more than to the Constitution and to our people, has metastasized in many of our leaders.
Because of this metastasis, our democratic institutions have been subverted and have failed to stop malgovernance. A culture of impunity has overtaken our country to a point where our leaders seem not to care anymore about accountability and responsibility.

When local laws and institutions no longer work, people think of marching in the streets in the hope that another EDSA miracle would happen, as it did in 1986 and 2001. Some think of civil disobedience, even the extreme of rebelling.

But for us who believe in the rule of law rather than in the rule of force, a new avenue, a new access to international remedies has been opened. Last March 4, the International Criminal Court (or ICC) at The Hague issued a warrant of arrest for a sitting head of state, President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir of Sudan. He had been charged with gross violation of human rights and for “murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing and forcibly transforming large numbers of civilians, and pillaging their property.”

This novel international law development is very significant for two reasons. One, it marks the first time that a warrant of arrest had been issued against a sitting head of state, contrary to the long held theory of immunity for incumbents. Our own Supreme Court, in Estrada vs Desierto (March 2, 2001), has ruled that this immunity is available but only during the Chief Executive’s incumbency, and no longer after the term is over, thereby holding former President Joseph Estrada accountable for plunder. This capital offense was committed during his term but prosecuted after he stepped down from power.

Two, Sudan — like the Philippines — had not ratified the Rome Statute that established the ICC. Yet the ICC still issued the warrant because the power to file complaints had been given by the ICC Statute to three possible complainants: to nationals of states that have ratified the Statute, to the ICC prosecutor and to the Security Council of the United Nations. And this is exactly what happened in Sudan. These three complainants combined their right to file the complaint against al-Bashir.

I believe this recent international law development should give leaders, described by President Obama as those “who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent,” some pause and know that there is no more sanctuary and no more immunity from heinous crimes. Not on this planet anyway.

Back to the Philippines and on a more positive note, our people will have the grand opportunity during the general elections scheduled in May next year to change our leaders who would not unclench their fists. Again, judging from surveys and opinion polls, our people may be patient in awaiting the expiration of the office terms of our leaders. But, as Pulse Asia’s February 2009 survey shows, an overwhelming 65 percent of Pinoys are looking forward to the next elections as the democratic way of renewing the nation and cleansing its leadership, and would not allow term extensions under any guise.

Vision-Mission and Core Values

In tackling our symposium theme, “Leadership During Challenging Times,” I realize that there are mountains of existing literature, speeches, books, articles, even movies and TV shows, on effective leadership. I will not be true to myself, and perhaps even unfair to you, if I just mouthed these “how tos.” If I did just that, you might be better off surfing the Internet, rather than listening to a rehash of these published leadership ideas. Thus, to justify my presence here, I will just speak from my heart and say plainly how I believe our people can meet the leadership challenges confronting them in the 21st century.

Right off, let me say that every leader must have a clear idea of what ultimately he or she wants to accomplish, and of the specific ways of how to achieve the declared goals. If one is embarking on a journey, one must have — prior to departure — a pre-selected destination, and a specific mode of how to get there. I refer to this statement of goals, values and methods as the “vision-mission” of every leader or organization.

Now, it is one thing to be able to put together a vision and mission statement, it is quite another to get a team to embrace it and get it done. Otherwise stated, talk is easy, but let’s see some action. Relevantly, Mrs. Ong asked me to discuss leadership in the judiciary. More pointedly, did I have a vision-mission statement, and as Chief Justice, was I able to get it done?

Two Roles of the Chief Justice

Let me start off by saying that the Chief Justice has two major roles: first, he is the highest magistrate of the land, the primus inter pares (the first among equals) among the fifteen members of the Supreme Court; and second, he is the leader of the entire judicial branch of our government composed of about 2,000 justices and judges plus about 26,000 employees nationwide; as well as of the Philippine bar composed of about 45,000 lawyers. That is why, appropriately, he is called Chief Justice of the Philippines, not just Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

As primus inter pares, the Chief Justice presides over all en banc sessions of the Supreme Court. He is thus able to control the flow of the proceedings. He shapes the Court’s agenda, opens the discussion of the cases and summarizes the arguments. Nonetheless, like his fourteen colleagues, he has only one vote. So, it is by his moral ascendancy and persuasive skills, not by any boss-subordinate relationship, that the Chief Justice leads the Supreme Court.

On the other hand, the Chief Justice is also the Chief Executive Officer of the entire judiciary. Outside the realm of decision-making in the Supreme Court in which he has one solitary vote, the Chief Justice is the unquestioned administrative boss of the entire Judicial Department; nothing happens without his say-so. But more than a boss, he is the leader of the judiciary. The justices and judges, as well as the court personnel and lawyers all over the country, hold him up for inspiration and example.

Indeed, the Chief Justice is looked up to as the leader who inspires, motivates, and leads others to work unceasingly, to rise above their puny limitations, to excel beyond themselves, and to achieve collectively their loftiest dreams and highest aspirations.

Sometimes, these two major roles of the Chief Justice clash. Let me explain.

As a jurist, the Chief Justice is expected to be detached, mysterious, unreachable, untouchable and even unfathomable; yet as a leader and CEO, he must be transparent, knowable, accountable and reachable. The judge in him impels him to follow tradition, to uphold precedents and to stabilize judicial thought; the leader in him, requires him to innovate, to re-engineer, to reinvent new and better ways of managing and moving forward. As a jurist, the CJ must be a recluse; yet, as a leader, he must have people skills.

After briefly explaining the dual roles of the Chief Justice, let me now directly answer the earlier question about having a vision-mission and core values.

At the beginning of my term, I spelled out my vision and this is a judiciary that safeguards the liberty and nurtures the prosperity of our people under the rule of law.

To achieve this vision, I drew up specific missions for each of my major constituencies. From the 2,000 justices and judges, I asked for adherence to four core values, what I call the “four ins” of a good magistrate: independence, integrity, industry and intelligence. From the 26,000 judicial employees, I pleaded for “DHL”: Dedication to duty, Honesty in every way and Loyalty to the Supreme Court. And from the 45,000 lawyers, I called for “EC”: Ethics and Competence.

Finally, I asked all these sectors to help reform the judiciary by fighting the “ACID” problems that corrode justice: limited Access to justice by the poor, Corruption, Incompetence and Delay in the delivery of quality judgments.

There are three key words or phrases in my “vision,” namely: liberty, prosperity and rule of law. Let me say a few words about each of them.

Safeguarding Liberty

Safeguarding liberty has long been a traditional expectation from our courts. Their role is to be the great equalizers when individual freedoms 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 our nation’s history, to be invoked over and over, as often as challenges to individual liberty persist to this day. Indeed, an individual becomes a majority of one when courts uphold that person’s freedom.

How do courts secure freedom? In litigations involving civil liberties, the scales of justice should weigh heavily against the government and in favor of the people, especially the poor and the weak. This rule is commonly referred to as “strict scrutiny.”

Conformably, during my watch as Chief Justice, the Supreme Court promulgated three landmark decisions expressly championing strict scrutiny. First, the Court struck down the main parts of Executive Order 464 and upheld the right of Congress to summon executive officials to investigations in aid of legislation.

Second, it pulverized the so-called Calibrated Preemptive Response (or CPR) policy of the administration and ruled in favor of the people’s right to demonstrate for a redress of grievances. Third, it voided major parts of Presidential Proclamation 1017 and recognized fundamental rights to liberty even when the President had declared a “State of National Emergency”.

Nurturing Prosperity

While safeguarding liberty is a fairly common judicial task, nurturing prosperity is something many lawyers do not readily concede as a judicial mandate. They claim that this is outside the judiciary’s realm.
However, I believe that our Constitution unmistakably decrees not only political but also economic rights. The judiciary must respond to the call for the alleviation of poverty, disease and disability. Freedom and food, justice and jobs, liberty and prosperity must go together because political freedoms are meaningless to people suffering from grinding poverty, permanent disability and debilitating disease.

How can the judiciary nurture prosperity? In litigations involving the economy, courts must defer as much as possible to the actions taken by the President and Congress. This is known as “deferential” interpretation, the opposite of strict scrutiny.

The Court has implemented this deferential stance in several cases. For example, in Tañada vs Angara (May 2, 1997), it upheld our membership in the World Trade Organization, saying that the issue of whether the nation should adopt liberalization, globalization and deregulation should be left to the discretion of elected policymakers.

So too, the Court acceded to the wisdom of Congress and the President in imposing the kind and amount of value added taxes (or VAT) needed to propel the economy. As a final example, the Court upheld the Mining Law, holding that elected leaders should be granted “reasonable leeway to enable them to attract foreign investments and expertise, and to secure for our people and our posterity the blessings of prosperity and peace.”

Rule of Law

Let me now tackle the rule of law, the third important phrase of my vision statement for the judiciary. The safeguarding of liberty and the nurturance of prosperity must be planned, worked on and carried out in accordance with pre-agreed rules embodied in the Constitution and the laws. Let me give some parallels in common experiences.
Every sport has rules. When these rules are violated, a foul is called and, depending on the gravity of the act, the offender is penalized. No team, no matter how talented, can win without following the rules. Thus, when a basketball player “forces” himself on the opposite team, a foul is called and the basket made is not counted. The referees cannot award the trophy, until the game is finished within the prescribed period. After the regulation time, no basket may be counted.

In the same manner, no person may be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. In their impatience, some people resort to short cuts and immediately condemn an accused because, allegedly, lengthy “procedures” should not stand in the way of “justice.” If the accused is obviously guilty because his crime had been committed in the full view of cameras, why should the State waste valuable time and resources in hearing and trying him? Just jail him, period. So they say.

There is an inherent danger in this argument. When people ignore the rule of law and belittle due process, they really abet authoritarianism. What differentiates libertarianism from authoritarianism (or dictatorship) is the rule of law. No person, no matter how powerful or talented, can be above the law. Everyone, rich or poor, powerful or powerless, must follow pre-agreed rules.
The rule of law also differentiates democracy from the rule of the mob. The mere fact that the gallery wants a team to win despite repeated violations of the rules will not entitle that team to the trophy. The mere fact that, allegedly, six million people have signed a petition to change the Constitution, in violation of legal procedures, is of no moment; it cannot be allowed. The Panganiban Court stressed the rule of law when it rejected, in Lambino vs Comelec (October 25, 2006), the administration’s juggernaut to institute the parliamentary system via a people’s initiative. The rule of law does not tolerate short cuts and bully tactics. The end never justifies the means.
To my mind, the peculiar facts and distinct circumstances of the Philippines make the formula “Liberty and Prosperity under the Rule of Law” still the most viable economic and judicial philosophy here. After all, during the years of Martial Law, authoritarian rule proved to be incapable of producing meaningful long-term economic progress.

I believe that the activist policy of the Panganiban Court on liberty issues, its non-interventionist stance on prosperity questions, and its steadfast insistence on the rule of law have immensely contributed to the nation’s stability and economic well-being.

After that extended discussion of the three parts of my vision for the judiciary, my time is almost exhausted. Hence, I will not be able to discuss my mission statement; my core values of independence, integrity, intelligence and industry and the ACID problems that corrode justice; namely, Access to justice for the poor, Corruption, Incompetence and Delay in the delivery of quality justice. Let me just say that to discuss them, this whole afternoon would not be enough. However, you can refer to the eleven books I have written about them, one for every year of my service in the Supreme Court. Moreover, we do have an open forum and you, the audience may ask me any question about them.


Let me end this address with a little story, one of my favorite true stories, to summarize my message.

On his first day in office, the new chief executive of a huge Philippine company asked how many cars were assigned to his office as president. He was stunned to learn that there were more than 60. He retained only one and ordered the immediate sale of the remainder.

On his second day, an assistant visited his office with a big briefcase full of cash that, he was told, was his personal share of the commissions for advertising placed by his company in several media outlets. He ordered the assistant to have them deposited officially in the company’s bank account.

On his third day, he noticed that many of the executives under him arrived in their offices only about 10:00 a.m. Without commenting on the dismaying habits of his subordinates, he asked his secretary to make arrangements to bring him to office before 8:00 a.m. daily.

In those three early days, without giving a pep talk and without criticizing anyone, Manuel V. Pangilinan led his subordinates at the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company in practicing the prudent use of corporate assets, integrity in money matters and on-time office arrival. After a few years of leadership by example, the market worth of PLDT multiplied tenfold and its corporate ethics, a hundred fold.

In this season of lent, it will be apropos to recall how our Lord Jesus Christ taught his disciples how to spread the gospel most effectively. After the Last Supper, our Lord took off his outer garments, got a towel and wrapped it around his waist. Then, He poured some water in a basin and began washing their feet.

The apostles remonstrated and Peter said, “Master, you will never wash my feet.” But unknown to the disciples, the Lord was teaching them the virtues of humility and of watching over one another lest they fall into sin. So, He declared, “If I, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow. So, as I have done for you, you should also do.”

Ladies and gentlemen, there are many ways to lead: by delivering motivational speeches and homilies, by sporting an iron fist, by buying loyalties, by dispensing patronage, and by belonging to a dynasty.

It helps to be a great orator and a financial wizard. Patting backs and rewarding good work have their uses. Charisma, media exposure, good looks, genes, science, passion, opportunity and greed have propelled many people to center stage but have failed to produce the desired results. Many times, they have resulted in corruption, malgovernance and violation of human rights.

Committing to and aggressively pursuing a clear vision, mission and core values are an essential beginning. However, leading by example is the best, if not the only, way to long term, effective leadership during these challenging times.

Maraming salamat po.


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