Tribute delivered by retired Chief Justice ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN to honor Senior Associate Justice ANTONIO T. CARPIO on his retirement from the Supreme Court sponsored by the Makati Business Club, Management Association of the Philippines, Financial Executives of the Philippines and other groups held on October 18, 2019 at the New World Hotel, Makati City. Due to time limits requested by the sponsors, only the portions in bold types were read.
Distinguished guests, members of the most respected business groups in the country, ladies and gentlemen.
I first met Senior Associate Justice Antonio Tirol Carpio way back in June 1992 when he was introduced to me by then President-elect Fidel V. Ramos as his putative chief presidential legal counsel. Though only 44 years old at the time, he was given the delicate responsibility of advising the President on the sensitive legal issues confronting him, and of recommending the justices and judges to be appointed by him. To the best of my knowledge, all his recommendees, except one, were named to the Supreme Court by the President. Since we held similar ideals and aspirations for the nation, including the rule of law, we developed since then, a long and close, even if at times testy, friendship.
Fast forward to January 20, 2001 during the Edsa 2 People Power Revolution that toppled President Joseph Estrada. Atty. Carpio was the private legal counsel of then Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and I was already a sitting Associate Justice of the Court. On the morning of that day, I called him up to advise him that, upon my initiative, the Supreme Court authorized then Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide Jr. to swear in his client, VP Arroyo, as the Acting President to constitutionally fill a power vacuum after the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police and a majority of the Cabinet withdrew their support from Estrada. Though he verbally agreed with me, he thereafter sent a last minute pleading to the Court that VP Arroyo be sworn in as the regular, not acting, President. Somehow, this pleading must have stuck to the mind of CJ Davide when he swore in Atty. Carpio’s client as the regular President, contrary to the Court’s authorization.
Fast forward again. When the first Supreme Court vacancy was opened during President Arroyo’s tenure, I urged Tony Carpio, though reluctant, to accept his nomination and appointment to be an associate justice because he would be serving the Court for 18 years, with the great certainty of him becoming the most senior justice within 10 years. And following the over 100-year judicial tradition favoring only the most senior or second most senior to be appointed Chief, I thought that he would have the singular opportunity lead and stabilize the Court for at least 8 years. Anyway, he took his oath as an Associate Justice exactly on his 62nd birthday, October 26, 2001.
During his 18 years in the Court, he had five chances to be the primus inter pares. But sadly, he never became chief. Why? Let me count the ways.
His first chance was on May 17, 2010 upon the retirement of CJ Reynato S. Puno. However, he declined his nomination due to his keen sense of “delicadeza” or of propriety, because he voted against the Supreme Court decision authorizing incumbent President Arroyo, his former client, to appoint the CJ despite the constitutional ban against midnight appointments, worded as follows: “Two months immediately before the next presidential elections and up to the end of his term, a President or Acting President shall not make appointments…”
The Court’s majority held that appointments in the Supreme Court were exempted from this prohibition. In any event, Renato C. Corona was named the “primus inter pares.” When I asked why he declined, he quipped, “I do not want to be known as Mr. Midnight Chief Justice.”
At this point, may I recall, as a backgrounder, that the most crucial case the Panganiban Court faced in 2006 was the attempt to institute the parliamentary government via a dubious peoples’ initiative that was thrashed by the Court by a narrow 8-7 vote in Lambino vs Comelec. About 8:00 AM of the voting day, October 25, 2006, a member of the court visited my chambers and frankly told me he could no longer vote with us because a former President to whom he owed his career as a Cabinet member and as an Associate Justice pleaded with him to vote with the seven led by then Associate Justice Puno. So, I hurriedly called Justice Carpio to my Chamber and asked him to prepare a dissent for our forthcoming defeat. He told me he would resign from the Court as a protest against the plainly unconstitutional attempt to emasculate the Charter. I replied that I should be the one to resign, since I was the Court’s leader, and since I had only two more months until my compulsory retirement in December, 2006 whereas he still had 13 more years remaining. But he was adamant, “Let us both resign and show that we can sacrifice our dearest treasures for what we believe in.”
Fortunately, during the actual voting later that morning, one of the original seven unexpectedly changed her mind, thereby preserving the 8-7 vote in our favor, and in favor of preserving the presidential system of government. What would have happened if the pro-parliamentary group won? Well, that deserves another speech at some future time.
His second chance was on May 29, 2012 when Corona was impeached by the House of Representatives and ousted by the Senate. After the Judicial and Bar Council submitted its nominees to the Palace, including him, the incumbent President, Benigno Aquino III, called him to Malacanang for an interview.
On his way home after the interview, he immediately called me via his mobile phone, sadly saying, “The President told me he had no doubts about my qualifications and, in fact, he even admired my decisions and opinions. However, he frankly said he could not appoint me because some of his key Senate allies and three prominent business leaders opposed my promotion.”
Justice Carpio told me the names of the senators and businessmen who thumbed him down. Later on, I asked each of them privately why they opposed his elevation. I am sorry folks I cannot reveal their names or their objections because of the very limited time for my talk.
The third chance was the vacancy created after CJ Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno was ousted via quo warranto by a vote of 8-6 of her colleagues. Again, he refused his nomination out of his deep sense of “delicadeza” because he dissented against the ouster decision. He opined that the Court had no constitutional authority to remove Supreme Court justices. In his view, only Congress had the constitutional power to oust any of them via impeachment.
I privately argued with him, saying he had no basis for his refusal because precisely of his vote against the creation of the vacancy. The rule of law requires all, even dissenters, to follow the majority’s decision.
But he was, as usual, adamant in his stand. In fact, he always stood by what he believed in, despite the contrary view of others who sincerely cared for him and his legacy. And so, he missed again his chance to be the primus inter pares. Teresita J. Leonardo De Castro got the post.
The fourth chance came when De Castro retired. This time, he accepted his nomination but President Duterte chose Lucas P. Bersamin, the third most senior justice, over Justice Carpio and Diosdado M. Peralta, the first and second most senior justices, respectively.
Bersamin reached his mandatory retirement age today, October 18, 2019, eight days before Justice Carpio himself reaches 70 on October 26. Anticipating the vacancy, the JBC called for early nominations and considered the five most senior justices, including him, to be automatically nominated.
This time, I was told by a person very close to the President (Lucio Singh) that the Chief Executive was open to elevating Justice Carpio to serve for even for just a day or two before his compulsory retirement. But he preempted the President by again declining the automatic nomination, believing he could do nothing with a term of only one or two days, except to bask in the honorable title of Chief Justice and the better retirement privileges appended to the lofty position. Besides, he did not want to be known as “Mr. One Day Chief Justice.”
At this point in his storied life, titles, honors and testimonials no longer faze him. Neither do they make him better, greater or more exalted. Relevantly, ten years ago, during his 60th birthday I toasted him with this truth that is still true today: “To Justice Carpio, it is more important to be correct, to be honor-bound than to be titled grandiosely and to be damned in history.” (See my complete toast at cjpanganiban.com and click “Speeches”)
Ever true to his innate modesty and humility, he declined the traditional majestic ceremony to honor its retiring magistrates at its hallowed session hall. He preferred a simple dinner with his colleagues and close friends at the Conrad Hotel.
Nonetheless, the Court passed a unanimous resolution (with him taking no part and thus disabled from dissenting) granting him the “(a) the salary and emoluments of a Chief Justice while serving in such capacity, and (2) the retirement (privileges)” of a Chief Justice.
I think this is the least the Court could do for its esteemed member who has faithfully served the longest term – 18 years – as Associate Justice, second only to its first Chief Justice Cayetano Arellano, who served for 19 years from 1901-1920. But then, being the first Chief at the organization of the Court in 1901, he never served as an Associate Justice.
Moreover, I believe Justice Carpio has performed the duties and powers of the Chief Justice for a total of more than eight months, divided into two months, three weeks and six days after Corona was impeached and ousted, three months and two weeks after Sereno was “quo warrantoed” and one month two weeks and three days after De Castro retired.
Clearly, he served longer than some who had been presidentially crowned CJs, like De Castro (who served for less than two months), Pedro L. Yap (less than three months) and Jose Abad Santos (less than four months because his term was cut short when he was executed during World War II on May 2, 1942 by the Japanese military for refusing to serve under them).
I titled my short tribute as “The Bad, the Good, the Better, and the Best News about Justice Carpio.” By now, you already know the bad news: His five missed chances to become Chief.
You also know the good news: His peers in the Court unanimously granted him the salary, benefits and emoluments of a regular Chief.
The better news is here and now. Regardless of the unceremonious way he was deprived of the official and legal title of Chief Justice, the Filipino nation, represented by all of us gathered in this huge assembly, hereby proclaim and acclaim him as our esteemed and beloved Chief Justice. May his tribe increase. And may our Lord give him another 70 years of unselfish service to our people!
Lastly, the best news is yet to come, and this is when China finally joins the rest of the world in acceding to his single-minded advocacy to protect and promote our sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea. When that inevitable time comes, we who are solemnly gathered in this assembly will acclaim him a hero and a patriot.
All those who agree with me will please rise and give him a standing ovation, applause and cheers!
Hep, hep! Hurray! Hep, Hep! Hurray! Hep, Hep! Hurray!
Maraming salamat po. At mabuhay po tayong lahat.