Equilibrium with Momentum

Testimonial delivered by retired Chief Justice ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN during the launching of the book, “Momentum: Economic Reforms for Sustainable Growth,” authored by Romeo Bernardo, Calixto Chikiamco, Emmanuel de Dios, Raul Fabella and the late Cayetano Paderanga, held on October 23, 2019 at the Fairmont Hotel, Makati.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It is said that there are as many opinions as there are lawyers in the room. This one-liner may have inspired William Shakespeare to propose that “the first thing we do is to kill all lawyers.” The great English bard may have meant a context different from my opening sentence. But, whatever that context may have been, I was also told that the same story of having too many opinions may likewise be said of economists in general. Fortunately or unfortunately, Shakespeare referred to the killing only of lawyers and not also of economists.

Levity aside, may I say that, despite the allegedly disparate opinions of economists in general, once in a long while, a group of truly brilliant ones have gathered and put together their writings in one noteworthy book titled “Momentum: Economic Reforms for Sustaining Growth” with a distinctive blue cover (not maroon or green) that can be understood even by nincompoop lawyers like me.

If ever there would be a Supreme Court for economic matters, I think the authors of this book – Romeo Bernardo, Calixto Chikiamco, Emmanuel de Dios, Raul Fabella and the late Cayetano Paderanga – would easily constitute some of its most revered members. And this book would contain their landmark ponencias to be read, re-read and obeyed not only by lawyers and economists but, more importantly, by the policy makers of our country and the general public as well. Indeed, their pieces contain gems of thought that have been tested by time then and now, by countries big and small, and by ideologies left and right.

Like the revered writers of this book, I have humbly espoused over my years as a lawyer, jurist and citizen, my philosophy of liberty and prosperity under the rule of law, which I humbly say is in legal equilibrium with theirs, except that mine sees the subject from a lawyer’s lenses while theirs strike deep into the heart of the economy.

In the books I have written and in several speeches I have delivered, I have many times echoed the same theme and truth as the authors’ – maybe in slightly different words – but, I think, with the same passion and addiction.

And that theme is this: humans need both justice and jobs; freedom and food; ethics and economics; peace and development; liberty and prosperity; these twin beacons must always go together; one is useless without the other. For what good is freedom of speech when the stomach is empty and the body is mortally sick? Moreover, that theme inevitably evolves into a truth that transcends sovereignties, territories, ideologies and legalities. And that truth is this: The best way to conquer poverty, to create wealth and to share prosperity is to unleash the entrepreneurial genius of people by granting them the freedom and the tools to help themselves and society.

During my over 11 years in the Court, and though not an economist, I tried to echo this truth in my decisions and opinions. Let me cite as an example one of my earliest ponencias, Tanada vs. Angara (May 2, 1997), in which the Court affirmed, reluctantly in the beginning but unanimously in the end, our country’s membership in the World Trade Organization, and its adoption of the axioms of globalization, liberalization, deregulation and privatization as the keys to economic growth in the 21st century. In that decision, I wrote in part:

All told, while the Constitution indeed mandates a bias in favor of Filipino goods, services, labor and enterprises, at the same time, it recognizes the need for business exchange with the rest of the world on the bases of equality and reciprocity and limits the protection of Filipino enterprises only against foreign competition and trade practices that are unfair. In other words, the Constitution did not intend to pursue an isolationist policy. It did not shut out foreign investments, goods and services in the development of the Philippine economy. While the Constitution does not encourage the unlimited entry of foreign goods, services and investments into the country, it does not prohibit them either. In fact, it allows an exchange on the basis of equality and reciprocity, frowning only on foreign competition that is unfair.”

At the time this decision was issued more than two decades ago, the reigning economic doctrine was “Filipino First.” Thus, I had difficulty convincing my colleagues of the necessity to abandon isolationist policies and to embrace the new, 21st century economic doctrines. In the beginning, only three members of the Court fully concurred with me, with the rest either dissenting or concurring only “in the result,” meaning that they agreed with my conclusions, but not necessarily with the reasons therefor. But after days of patient explanations, discussions and deliberations, I finally convinced all of the 14 other justices to agree, thereby making the decision unanimous.

When I became Chief Justice, I pursued with greater vigor my philosophy of liberty and prosperity, to the point of getting our Supreme Court to sponsor the holding of the Global Forum on Liberty and Prosperity on October 18-20, 2006, with funding grants from the World Bank, US AID, Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), European Union, Asia Foundation, and others. About 300 jurists, academics and lawyers from around the world attended, including the top jurists of several countries big and small. The first female Chief Justice of Canada, Beverley McLaughlin (who recently retired at age 75), proposed in her major address, and I accepted, that the philosophy be renamed “liberty and prosperity under the rule of law” to stress that the egalitarian goal should be achieved only via libertarians methods. Equally significant, the Forum adopted the Manila Declaration accepting and lauding the philosophy, and calling for a reconvening of the Forum every three years.

Unfortunately, after I retired, my successors as chief justice did not pursue this initiative. The Court returned to the tradition of giving primacy to liberty and shelving prosperity, no longer as an equal, but only as a secondary objective. This traditional primacy given to political liberties, like the presumption of innocence unless proven guilty and the freedom of speech and peaceful assembly, is understandable given that our Constitution makes the Bill of Rights mandatory and self-executing without need of implementing legislations. On the other hand, it listed the roads to prosperity, like the rights to education, to a healthy environment and to be freed from poverty, mostly in its three articles titled the “Declaration of Principles and State Policies,” “Social Justice and Human Rights,” and “Education, Science and Technology, Arts, Culture and Sports.” The said provisions are generally viewed as mere ideals and aspirations which, unlike the Bill of Rights, are not mandatory and self-executing. Verily, they need implementing laws to be judicially enforceable. Why is this so?

This is because our Constitution was born out of our centuries-old struggle for political freedoms and for independence from foreign domination, first from Spain, then from America. Notably, we borrowed our Bill of Rights from the Constitution of the United States which was born also from the American battle for independence from colonial rule, epitomized by Patrick Henry’s epic cry of “Give me liberty or give me death.”

While political rights must still be safeguarded, I firmly believe in and still fervently espouse the nurturing of prosperity in equal measure. Hence, though already retired from the Supreme Court, I, as a private citizen, organized the Foundation for Liberty and Prosperity or FLP to celebrate my 75th birthday in 2011.

To begin with, the FLP, with the help of the Metrobank Foundation, created 20 professorial chairs on liberty and prosperity which were conferred on several deans and noted professors of law to assist the Foundation in crystalizing the philosophy into implementable programs, and in veering the legal curriculum to the philosophy. Later, with the help of the Tan Yan Kee Foundation, the FLP created 20 legal scholarships at P200,000 each. I am happy that, though we emphasized non-bar exam subjects in promoting the philosophy, our very first batch of scholar-graduates copped the first and fifth places in the last bar examinations. This clearly shows that while excelling in bar subjects, law students can equally tackle non-bar subjects involving the nurturing of prosperity and the elimination of poverty. To encourage more literature on this philosophy, the FLP, this time with funding from the Ayala Corporation, concurrently sponsored a dissertation writing contest with several prizes totaling almost two million pesos on the same subject of giving equal treatment to the rights to liberty and prosperity.

The FLP is now actively planning to establish a roving Museum on Liberty and Prosperity in 2020 and, with the cooperation of the Supreme Court and other co-sponsors, to reconvene the Global Forum on Liberty and Prosperity in 2021, 15 years after the first one was held.

I think the book we are launching today, whether intentionally or unintentionally, immensely contributes to this valiant effort to equalize the war against poverty with the struggle for liberty. I believe the pivotal battle in the years ahead will be on how to enlarge the economy, to push for prosperity, for education, for health, and to banish poverty, disease and disability from the Philippines and the world.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is why I fervently ask you to join me in congratulating the authors and their editor, Roel Landingin, for this interesting and readable tome that simplifies and demystifies the labyrinths of economics to make them understandable by mere lawyers like me.

Maraming salamat po.


Comments Off on Equilibrium with Momentum

Filed under Speeches

Comments are closed.