The Consummate Constitutionalist

Exordium written by retired Chief Justice ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN for the Autobiography of retired Supreme Court Justice Adolfo S. Azcuna, as requested by him on August 18, 2022

On the early morning (6:51 AM) of Thursday, August 18, 2022, I received an SMS from Justice Adolfo S. Azcuna, my esteemed friend and amiable critic of my weekly Inquirer column (his comments are cherished, whether favorable or unfavorable), saying, “Good morning, CJ Art. I sent you my Autobiography. Please do me the honor of an Exordium (Latin for Introduction).” To which I immediately replied, “I will look at it with pleasure after our morning walk. Thank you.”

After my stroll (with my dear wife Leni) in our village, I opened my email and texted him again, “Wow, it’s 271 pages. Please give me the weekend to read and digest it. And another week at least to write the Exordium! Is that okay?” To which he briefly replied, “Ok.”

During that weekend of August 20-21, I read his emailed “8th (and final) softcopy, Aug. 6, 2022, 50,265 words,” complete with a Foreword by our common comrade, Justice Antonio T. Carpio. With this information, I juggled my normal weekend schedule and read his final draft for six hours.

What Is A Lawyer? And What Is An EEZ?

Normally, books and treatises written by lawyers are heavy, complicated, wordy, and incomprehensible. However, I found Justice Adolf’s autobiography simple and graspable; humble and palpable; never haughty or naughty or deprecating, yet no less ennobling and enabling. No doubt justices, judges, lawyers, law professor and law students will find in it a treasure trove of legal wisdom, and the ordinary reader –especially government leaders and employees – an easy way to navigate the labyrinths of government in a manner both entertaining and interesting.

Yes, entertaining and interesting; take for example, Justice Adolf’s definition of a lawyer that he learned from his eldest daughter, Rina, found on pages 82-83:

“One time I had a trial in Pasig and I had to drop Rina, then a grader to school—St. Scho for the girls and Xavier for Miguel—but the Dep Ed had declared “No Class” that day, so I brought Rina to the court.

“Rins please wait and sit here at the back as Papa has to work.  

“Yes, Papa.

“I waited while another case was being tried. It was a Bormaheco case and presenting a witness was Atty. Antonio F. Navarrete, a distinguished Ateneo law graduate. Then my case was called and opposing counsel asked for a resetting, to which I agreed and the Honorable Judge approved.

“As I returned to my little girl—Let’s go Rins, I’m done.

Papa, I now know what a lawyer is.

“Ya? What?



“To this day, that, for me, is the best definition of a lawyer.”

Well, same for me, Justice Adolf. More difficult to comprehend than what a lawyer is, even for seasoned attorneys, is what an exclusive economic zone or the EEZ is. On pages 134 to 136, the distinguished author simplified it, thus:

“It’s not, strictly speaking, part of our territory. It is a portion of the high seas made into a special zone by international agreement and over which the coastal State is given exclusive sovereign rights to fish and to exploit the natural resources on the seabed and subsoil under its waters. Sovereign rights are short of sovereignty because they do not include ownership of the territory but only exclusive right to its resources.

“The EEZ is that part of the sea beyond the outer limits of our territorial sea and up to 200 nautical miles seaward.

“But the EEZ is technically still high seas and thus subject to the freedoms of the high seas (except the freedom to fish.) Thus, it is open to the freedom to navigate of other States or their vessels and the freedom of their airplanes to overfly.  It is also subject to the freedom of other States or their vessels and the freedom of other States or their nationals to lay submarine communication cables on the seabed as long as this does not interfere with the fishing and mining activities of the coastal State.

“The international agreement that governs the EEZ is the UNCLOS—The United Nations Convention on The Law of the Sea. Now UNCLOS requires the Parties to the treaty to share the fishing in the EEZ with other States if the fish resources there are beyond its needs or capacity to catch. So far, no State has declared that its EEZ has fish beyond its needs or ability to catch.”

The 1971 Constitutional Convention

As his autobiography clearly demonstrates, Justice Adolf – in my humble opinion – is an illustrious constitution maker, constitution implementer, and constitution interpreter. That is why I prefer to call him “The Consummate Constitutionalist.” Very few indeed, whether in our country or elsewhere, can claim those distinctions.

At 32 years young, Justice Adolf had his first brush with public service. On pages 93 to 104, he reminisced how he campaigned for and won as one of the three delegates of the Lone District of Zamboanga del Norte to the 1971 Constitutional Convention (ConCon) and how he fared in pushing for his four modest pet proposals:

“1.To integrate the Philippine Bar,

“2. To provide for a territorial citizen’s army,

“3. To include the Continental shelf in the delineation of our territory, and

“4.To provide for a writ of Amparo to enforce constitutional rights.

“The first three made it. Amparo had to wait for another day, and another Constitution… I had a hard time explaining it. Only [ConCon delegates] Hilario G. Davide, Jr. and Emmanuel “Noli” Santos understood it well and supported it. I wanted to include it among the new Social and Economic Rights Article proposed by Augusto Caesar Espiritu. In the end, it was not adopted…

“It had to wait until the 1987 Constitution where, with the help of former Chief Justice Roberto Concepcion, I succeeded in inserting it, not in the Bill of Rights – which he advised me to leave alone – but in the powers of the Supreme Court. The Article on Judicial Power, Art. VIII, in the 1987 Constitution now provides for the first time a new power – ‘to promulgate rules concerning the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights.’ That, essentially, is Amparo. It is a remedy provided in the Constitution to enforce constitutional rights, for example, the right to a clean environment. This is akin to the protection of the constitutional right to physical liberty by the writ of habeas corpus.  It is therefore a remedy of highest priority and goes to the top of the agenda of the courts.”

The 1986 Constitutional Commission

Having learned many lessons during the 1971 ConCon, Justice Adolf was absolutely adept in shaping the 1987 Constitution. He was one of the 48 members (should have been 50 except that the “seats reserved for the nominees of the Iglesia ni Kristo and the Communist Party of the Philippines were declined by the leaders of those sectors.”) of the Constitutional Commission (ConCom) created by a presidential proclamation of then President Corazon C. Aquino.

There, he easily crossed swords with the best and brightest minds of the country including the likes of former chief justices (Concepcion and Davide), a retired associate justice who was subsequently elected as the ConCom President (Cecilia Munoz-Palma), former lawmakers (Senators Ambrosio B. Padilla, Francisco “Soc” A. Rodrigo, Lorenzo M. Sumulong, Decoroso R. Rosales, and Speaker Jose B. Laurel Jr.), religious leaders (Bishop Teodoro Bacani Jr., Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, Sister Christine Tan and Rev. Cirilo A. Rigos), Muslim leaders (Ahmad Domocao Alonto, Lugum L. Uka, and Yusuf R. Abubakar), de campanilla lawyers (Felicitas S. Aquino, Alberto M. K. Jamir, Ricardo J. Romulo, Jose C. Colayco, Florenz D. Regalado, Jose N. Nolledo, Jose F. S. Bengzon Jr., Christian S. Monsod, Regalado E. Maambong and Rene V. Sarmiento), Cabinet members (Blas F. Ople) and community leaders and professionals (Minda Luz M. Quesada, Ma. Teresa F. Nieva, Florangel Rosario Braid, Edmundo G. Garcia, Crispino M. de Castro, Napoleon G. Rama. Vicente B. Foz, Lino O. Brocka, Bernardo M. Villegas, Wilfrido V. Villacorta, and Jaime S. L. Tadeo).

Amid all these dramatis personae, Justice Adolf related how he (and others) diligently worked to produce the 1987 Constitution that was/is so well crafted and polished that up to this writing – over 35 years later – it has survived attempts to revise it and has remained intact (some warts included), certainly a record here and in many countries.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, Press Secretary, etc.

After mightily forging the 1987 Constitution, Justice Adolf was conscripted by President Cory Aquino to implement it as Chief Presidential Legal Counsel (characteristic of his humility, he opted not to use the word “Chief” though it was restored by some of his successors), Presidential Spokesperson, Press Secretary, and Acting Chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government.

Both funny and serious were the heretofore unpublished back stories – of how he advised President Cory that she was not barred by the 1987 Constitution from running for the presidency in 1992; nonetheless. she graciously declined what would have been a sure victory and instead pushed for Fidel V. Ramos (FVR), in lieu of Ramon Mitra; of how Cory and her Palace coterie survived the numerous coup attempts to overthrow her; and of how grandly Cory was received during her visits to the United States, Canada, France, Germany and other countries. Read also his interesting vignettes about his touristic peregrinations of these countries!

After serving as an implementer of the 1987 Constitution, Justice Adolf tried his luck at national politics at the urging of Cory – as a senatorial candidate – in the ticket of presidential candidate Fidel V. Ramos. Although FVR won, our esteemed autobiographer lost and returned to his first love (no, to his second because his real first and only love is his dear wife Mariasun), the practice of law as the lead partner of the Azcuna, Yorac, Sarmiento, Arroyo and Chua Law Office. Ever humble, he praised the seemingly least of their named partner, William T. Chua, as the “life and soul of our partnership.  He took care of everything— the setup and facilities, getting and caring for the clients, and above all he took care of us, his partners, and of the lawyers and staff. He knew everything that was going on and nearly everything that was going to happen.”

The Supreme Court of the Philippines

But it was in the Supreme Court to where he was named by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on October 20, 2002 that – in my humble opinion – he truly blossomed as a lawyer and patriot. This is why I insist on calling him Justice Adolf, not Secretary Adolf, not Chairman Adolf.

In his Autobiography, he related how he adjusted to the more restrictive environment of the Court, how he availed of mentoring from the senior justices, how he interacted with the members of the collegiate Court, and how he learned of the ways and whys of drafting, discussing, and deciding ponencias and resolutions.

In my book “Battles in the Supreme Court” (published by the Court in November 1998), I wrote already on these little known decision-making steps and processes of the Court. However, I described them impersonally and at arm’s length. For his part, Justice Adolf narrated them as first person experiences, including how he went through them, how he was assigned his Chamber and how he selected his law clerks and staff. I think his version is much easier to comprehend. It will most certainly be appreciated by new entrants to the Court and by litigants who wonder how their cases are handled in the innermost sanctum of the highest court of the land.

Very interesting is how he defined his vivid encounter with Justice Tony Carpio particularly on how he outflanked and defeated him in a decision that had international repercussions and loud reverberations in the diplomatic relations of the Philippines and the United States.

To me, however, Justice Adolf’s most remarkable decision is Bayan vs. Ermita on the main issue of the need to secure a permit to hold a rally. I consider it one of the major decisions during my term as Chief Justice. A side effect of this decision is, to quote him, the creation of “freedom parks, either real or constructive, all over the country. This is what Constitutional Commissioner Ed Garcia calls andando sin camino, haciendo camino al andar.”

The Philippine Judicial Academy

But his judicial service did not end with his retirement from the Court upon “reaching 70 years old just before February 16, 2009.”  He was unanimously chosen by the Court en banc to be the Chancellor of the Philippine Judicial Academy, the training school for justices, judges, court personnel, lawyers and aspirants to judicial posts. He served for a record six terms of two years each totaling 12 years until May 31, 2021. Thus, his SC term is really unique and long. It consisted of nine years in the Court proper plus 12 years in a Court “subsidiary,” the PHILJA.

His list of PHILJA achievements is lengthy but the one I identify with the most is the completion of the construction of the PHILJA Training Center in Tagaytay which opened in October of 2010. This is because, during my term as Chief Justice, I was able to secure a grant of P300 million from the Japanese government, absolutely without strings and without conditionality, represented by then Japanese Ambassador Ryuichiro Yamamoto who was my golf buddy at the Midlands Golf Course in Tagaytay. (We played a two-some every Saturday morning.)

Upon my appointment as CJ, the good ambassador told me he had an “excess” of P300 million in his portfolio and asked me what he could do to help the Supreme Court. I eagerly replied that during a trip to Japan, I was briefed on how Japanese judges underwent periodic in-house trainings to hone their skill and update them on recent jurisprudence and judicial trends. I added that the PHILJA needed to build its Training Center and P300 million was the right amount for the right purpose. In three weeks, specifically – on January 18, 2006 – he handed me a check for P300 million during an appropriate ceremony at the Court’s main Session Hall. In turn, I passed it on to Justice Ameurfina A. Melencio-Hererra, Justice Adolf’s predecessor.

Appropriately, as one who aspired to be a priest, Justice Adolf closed his book with “thanks to God Almighty for the gifts of faith, hope and love showered upon us all in this fragile dot in space. With this, I call on the reader to join me in the prayer and the work to finally abolish poverty, at least extreme poverty, on Earth, even as we try our level best to save the planet for the future that lies beyond our years.”

New Tires for a New Journey

I do not think this is his goodbye. As I have always said, we never retire. We just change tires for a new journey. I believe he has more years in his life to embark on a new journey together with his Mariasun to care for their four children and dot on their grandkids. His book is really a smorgasbord of life and law, history and laughter, sunshine and rain, information and entertainment all rolled out in a never-boring autobiography. Though I earlier named him “The Consummate Constitutionalist,” I will look forward to calling him the “The Consummate Hubby, Dad and Lolo” ten years from now when I pray I would still be around even in a wheelchair to crown him with this infinitely more lovable title.

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