Remarks of retired Chief Justice ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN during the Testimonial for Justices Samuel R. Martires and Noel G. Tijam held on July 27, 2017 at the Club Filipino, San Juan City, sponsored by the San Beda Law Alumni Association.
At the outset, let me thank the Chairman of the San Beda Law Alumni Association, Atty. Ave V. Cruz, for inviting me to deliver this testimonial in honor of the several San Beda Alumni who were recently conscripted into the judicial service of the Republic led by the two new members of the Supreme Court, Justices Samuel R. Martires and Noel G. Tijam, and Sandiganbayan Justices Maria Theresa V. Mendoza-Arcega, Bernelito R. Fernandez and Lorifel L. Pahinma, as well as the members of the Judicial and Bar Council composed of Justice Secretary Vitaliano N. Aguirre II, Judge Toribio E. Ilao and Congressman Reynaldo V. Umali.
Even before Bedan President Rodrigo Roa Duterte thought of declaring Martial Law in Mindanao, Ave had already been enjoying the perks of martial rule because he had already been installed as the permanent and impeachment-proof chairman for life of the San Beda Law Alumni Association.
But I am not complaining. I should really be the last person to protest his reign for life because I was unanimously chosen an honorary member of the San Beda Law Alumni Association in 2006 when I was still the incumbent Chief Justice because of his skillful maneuvers in not allowing any objections or negative votes. That is why I was chosen by roaring acclamation, not by quiet balloting.
Anyway, maraming salamat Ave. Truth to tell, let me confess that I have always wanted to be a Bedan since I was – over 6 decades ago – an impoverished, struggling student at the Mapa High School, which was, at that time, housed in a two-story wooden structure (it is now in a 4-story concrete building) opposite San Beda here in Mendiola. Much later on, as I was preparing to enter law school proper, papunta na po ako sa San Beda para sana mag-enroll buhat sa aming maliit na inuupahang apartment sa Cataluña Street sa Sampaloc, Manila. Kaya lang natapilok po ako nuong nasa tapat na ako ng Far Eastern University. Nakita po ako at inakay ni Dean Jovito R. Salonga at dinala ako sa FEU Institute of Law. Kaya nga sa FEU na lang ako nag-aral at nagtapos ng abogasya.
But my impossible dream of being a Bedan was fulfilled when Ave proclaimed me your honorary member. To reciprocate his kindness, my dream now for San Beda is to have its home-grown Chief Justice. San Beda produced several bar topnotchers, eminent law practitioners and scholarly academicians, as well as esteemed Supreme Court and appellate court justices, and trial judges. But it has not produced its own Chief Justice.
“CJs” Ave and Bodjie
To be honest, that is the fault of Ave because he could have been the longest-serving Chief Justice of our country had he accepted the offer of President Cory Aquino to join the Supreme Court in 1986. But he chose to place his bets on then Prime Minister Salvador Laurel under whom he became the Deputy Prime Minister. However, his stint was short-lived because our 1987 Constitution instituted the presidential system of government and abolished the positions of prime minister and deputy prime minister.
Had Ave agreed to join the Supreme Court in 1986, he would have been ripe for the highest judicial post after Chief Justice Andres Narvasa retired in 1998. And there would have been no Chief Justices Hilario G. Davide Jr., Artemio V. Panganiban and Reynato S. Puno because he would have reigned until he reached 70 years on December 17, 2010 when all three of us would have retired.
In thanksgiving for giving me the chance to lead our judiciary, I campaigned robustly for him to become President of the Asean Law Association, which he attained in February 2016. As ALA President, he now lords it over several incumbent Asean Chief Justices, including those from Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore, who are his vice presidents.
But his greatest achievement is not in law, or in music, or in public service. Not even in ALA. In my humble opinion, his greatest achievement is convincing Helen to become his wife more than 50 years ago.
Another Red Lion to be faulted for not having a “native” Bedan Chief Justice is Justice Bodgie Reyes who has just retired from the Supreme Court. After Chief Justice Renato C. Corona was impeached and removed from office, President Noynoy Aquino personally telephoned Justice Bodgie and offered to name him Chief Justice. But Justice Bodgie immediately and respectfully declined. Had he accepted the offer, San Beda would have had its first native Chief Justice.
Justice Samuel R. Martires
So much for Ave and Bodjie. Let me now go to my primary duty of hailing our honorees. I wrote a full column in the Inquirer on March 12, 2017 on Justice Sammy and I will no longer repeat it now. Let me just reiterate one point in that article answering criticisms that he was chosen by President Duterte out of sheer gratitude for acquitting him in a criminal case. I personally read People vs Duterte which he wrote on April 14, 2011, with the concurrence of Justices Francisco Villaruz and Alex Quiroz.
I fully agree that the case should be, as it was, dismissed outright for lack of probable cause. Then Davao Mayor Duterte could not have been held liable for demolishing a canal cover that caused massive flooding and that was, in the first place, built without the proper permits. Moreover, he decided the case against the perceived wishes of the then mighty speaker of the House of Representatives, Prospero Nograles, who at that time belonged to the opposite political camp. If at all, the decision showed that Justice Sammy had the guts to do what was correct and proper regardless of the wishes of ruling political gods.
Ladies and gentlemen, we all know that Justice Sammy is a career jurist who is well-qualified to sit in the highest court. What many of us may not know is that he initially wanted to be a psychiatrist. After finding out that he could not be a psychiatrist without being first a doctor of medicine, he veered his sight to the priesthood. In his junior year in high school, he asked his Mom’s permission to enter the Franciscan order but his widowed mother discouraged him because she could not bear being away from him, as her only child, when he, as a priest, was on faraway mission.
And so, as an obedient son, he abandoned his dream to be a priest and pursued his other dream to be a lawyer, to the delight of his girlfriend Cecilia who became his loving wife. His mother also advised him to enroll in San Beda because two of his father’s cousins were Benedictine priests.
Simple and humble at heart, his favorite snacks are hopia and Skyflakes crackers. He loves to listen to ballads and can crack a tune on karaoke with this favorite kundiman, “Babalik Ka Rin,” or with Tony Bennett’s “Who Can I Turn To.” His most prized possession is a rosary he bought in Rome, which he held in his hands as he was being interviewed by the Judicial and Bar Council.
Justice Sammy’s stint in the Supreme Court is regrettably short as he would retire on January 2, 2019 when he turns 70. But he will make up for that short term by, to quote in part what he told the JBC during his interview, helping the Court solve what to him are the three main problems of the judiciary: “corruption… perceived interference of government officials… and trial by publicity by media.”
Justice Noel G. Tijam
Let me now say a few words about our second honoree, Justice Noel G. Tijam who is well known to all of us and to the judicial public because he had been nominated to the Supreme Court by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) no less than four times, on Oct. 5, 2009, Nov. 29, 2009, July 28, 2010 and Dec. 9, 2011.
He has served the judiciary for almost a quarter of a century: in the Court of Appeals (2003-2017) and in the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City (1994 to 2003). He finished his law degree cum laude and as salutatorian of the San Beda College law class of 1971. President Duterte was his batch mate and Justice Secretary Vit Aguirre, his valedictorian. Now 68, he will retire in less than two years, on Jan. 5, 2019.
Qualified as he may be, critics question (1) his short stint, and (2) his independence due to his closeness to the President. In a column I wrote on March 19, 2016, I defended him by answering these two items directly and pointedly. Like in the case of Justice Sammy, I will no longer repeat my column which I assume you have read. Suffice it to say that, to justify his short stint, Justice Noel has promised during his JBC interview to dispose of 1,000 cases during his term. Now, that is a Herculean task that not many justices with terms longer than his could do. But being a Bedan who honors his word, he will, I am sure, deliver on his commitment and show by example, how to speed up the delivery of justice in our country.
Justice Noel is an “accidental” Bedan. He initially wanted to enroll at the University of the East or at the University of Santo Tomas. But the enrollment queue was kilometric in those schools. So, at the suggestion of an auntie who had a son in the Benedictine community, he enrolled into the best law school in the Philippines… according to the SBLAA Association President, retired Justice Francisco P. Acosta… and according to all of us in this hall tonight!
Like Justice Sammy, law was not the initial ambition of Justice Noel. His first ambition was to be a diplomat. But he found law to be “more challenging and exciting.” And like Justice Sammy, he is very spiritual. He credits everything that he was, that he is and that he will ever be to the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen!
Our other honorees, particularly the new Sandiganbayan justices are all eminently qualified, having been vetted very strictly by the Judicial and Bar Council. As you may know, I, as a retired Chief Justice, am a JBC consultant. I was present when the JBC voted on them and I know they were scrutinized minutely and passed the screening triumphantly.
To all of them, let me just say that, as we all are aware, jurists are required by the Constitution to be of “proven competence, integrity, probity and independence.” During my stint in the Court, I renamed these qualities as the four “ins” of a good judge – “integrity, independence, industry and intelligence.” Of these four, independence is the most important.
Moreover, magistrates are expected to be impervious to what I call the plague of “ships:” kinship, relationship, friendship and fellowship. They owe allegiance only to the Constitution and the law.
As my little message for them, permit me to quote from my book “Leadership by Example,” published by the Supreme Court in 1999, thus, “something does happen when (magistrates) don the black robes of this Court. All at once, new appointees feel a new beginning. Immediately, they realize the god-like finality of their words and actions, for their decisions, whether right or wrong, are not reviewed, modified or reversed by any other agency of government. Instead, they are immortalized in books to be perused, criticized, damned or acclaimed many years after they have passed from this world.”
Our honorees from the JBC, Secretary Vit, Judge Ted and Cong Rey, may you continue to serve with distinction and continue vetting candidates the judiciary with the passion and dedication as you displayed when you chose our new Supreme Court and Sandiganbayan justices.
Finally, ladies and gentlemen, let me ask you to rise, raise your glasses and join me toasting and wishing success to our San Beda honorees. May their tribe increase and may they continue embodying the four constitutional desiderata: proven competence, integrity, probity and independence, and may they continue to be impervious to the plague of the four ships: kinship, relationship, friendship and fellowship. Cheers and Mabuhay.
Maraming salamat po.