Aurelio Montinola III, President of the Bankers’ Association of the Philippines and of the Bank of the Philippine Islands, on the launch by the Philippine Daily Inquirer of the book “With Due Respect” on Mar 29, 2012 at the Powerbooks, Greenbelt 4, Makati

What Differentiates Chief Justice Panganiban

By Aurelio Montinola III, President of the Bankers’ Association of the Philippines and of the Bank of the Philippine Islands, on the launching by the Philippine Daily Inquirer of the book authored by Chief Justice Panganiban titled “With Due Respect” held on March 29, 2012 at the Powerbooks, Greenbelt 4, Makati City.

In a recent television interview, IMF Chief Cristine Lagarde was asked if there was anything in her background that helped prepare her for the global role that she now has. She responded by saying that it was her being a lawyer and a previous head of Baker Mckenzie in the US that has given her the edge of better understanding what to do and what not to do in the global crisis she now deftly manages.

If I were to ask a similar question of Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, I would venture to say that his previous background in business is what differentiates him from many other Chief Justices.

As a former head of Baron Travel, he created a business that flourished in the 80s — Secretary Mon Jimenez would have been proud of his branding and communication skills when he fashioned his Baron Travel Girl contest at a time when many Filipinas dream was to win a beauty contest, and many Filipinos secret dream was to meet the Baron Travel Girl.

But more importantly, he understood the opportunities, the risks, the challenges, and the distinctive culture of business being primarily a private sector initiative – which is why he is remembered for leading a Supreme Court that, except for rulings on observance of law, generally preferred to leave the interpretation of business rules to businessmen and not to potentially disruptive court rulings.

The Lawyer and later, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

On a broader front, he perfected the nuances of being around at the big moments of political history and discreetly giving well thought out, pragmatic legal advice to key political leaders. He also perfected preserving the independence of the Supreme Court, having a working coequal relationship with the Chief Executive, and getting his own Supreme Court justices to work as a team.

I remember him as a voracious reader, but one who could wade through immense stacks of paper to distill the most important arguments pro and con, and then translate this into a view that could lengthily buttress a position that he would take. I am also told that he has put together an insightful compilation of his major Supreme Court positions and decisions.

Although I am not a lawyer, the title of his book today aptly describes the feeling of lawyers and non-lawyers toward his Court and also to him: “With Due Respect”. My recollection also is that he rated respectably high in Surveys regarding government officials’ capability and popularity.

The Independent Director and the Inquirer Columnist (and now author)

For those of us who have to contemplate life after retirement from a most hectic career, one can admiringly look to the model of Chief Justice Art — whom some of us had the privilege of watching a musicale aptly entitled “Ageless Passion” at the Meralco Theater fairly recently.

After the Supreme Court, he quietly re-entered the world of business by serving in a few corporate Boards, which have become so many that whenever we at BPI lend a lot of money to a major Philippine name, we often hear the familiar “Mr. Chairman, Abstain, Independent Director” from Director Panganiban.

However, on matters of broad corporate policy of instructive comments on what is going on in the country, his ultra perceptive comments cut through the air like a knife through butter and distill instant knowledge for those present. He also asks the right questions, and always gives a clearly understandable answer on even the more complex subjects that show his insightful understanding of the relationship between business and law. If there were such a degree as a PHD for Business and Law, he would be a perfect candidate — a glance at his resume shows 5 awards for Doctor of Laws — Honoris Causa.

Finally, we are blessed with CJ Panganiban’s transformation into one of the most readable and balanced columnists at the Inquirer. He has “fearless views”, and “balanced news.” He writes them well, but he is always careful to explain the other side (even if it is very clear whose side or whose view he is espousing).

Best of all, he uses the first third of his column to explain the background, in layman’s terms, of what he will espouse in the next two thirds of his column. Also, after voluminous treatises in law in an earlier life, he has mastered the not-so-easy transition into a three-column article — almost like an English composition homework once a week on an interesting topic of his choice. As Isagani Yambot notes in his Foreword, “While many of the columns deal with the technical matters of law, they are written in simple, understandable language that uses a minimum of legal jargon. Because of their simplicity of style, clarity of thought, and unassailable logic, the columns make for interesting and instructive reading.”

Ladies and gentlemen, during the current impeachment hearings, some people watch the actual court proceedings, other wait for the TV news or commentaries — I simply read CJ Art’s weekend piece to understand the big picture as well as the legal nuances during the trial.

My congratulations then to Chief Justice Art Panganiban — one of FEU’s most distinguished law alumni, one of BPI’s respected Independent Directors, but most of all for sharing his knowledge and wisdom with all through his Inquirer Column entitled “With Due Respect.”

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