With Due Respect

Sereno’s four reform pillars

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“The goal is that after I retire in 2030—and Chief Justice Panganiban is there with me during my retirement ceremony—I will be leaving a judiciary that is professional and, may I dream big, that is the best sector in the bureaucracy; [a judiciary] that has systems that are world-class, according to best accreditation standards; [a judiciary] that people believe in; and [a judiciary] that those who are in the activity of creating the prosperity of our nation can rely on to protect a stable system of property rights and opportunities allocations.”

To clarify confusion. That is the exact transcription of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno’s extemporaneous response to my final sentence when I introduced her as the guest speaker during the launch of the 10 “Chief Justice Panganiban Professorial Chairs” of the Foundation for Liberty and Prosperity (FLP) on Sept. 18 at the Metrobank Auditorium in Makati.

And to understand fully the context of her answer, may I also quote the last sentence of my introduction of her: “My hope and my dream is to be alive 18 years from now when I would be 93 years old, and she—at age 70—would be retiring and proudly bequeathing to our country, to our people and to her own children and grandchildren a truly transparent, accountable, excellent and trustworthy judiciary.”

I had to write those exact quotes to clarify the confusion on why Sereno was speaking already of her valedictory yet to take place 18 years from today, when she should really be talking of what could be expected from her now. To be fair, she did outline in broad strokes her reform agenda anchored on her four pillars of “predictability, rationality, speed and responsiveness of judicial action.”

Predictability means that future cases will be decided in the same way as past ones provided they have the same facts and issues, regardless of who the  ponente  and what the court’s composition is. Through rationality, citizens will be able “to detect from our reasons … the logic and the sensitivity that support our decisions.” Rules cannot be changed midstream.

Cases have “windows of opportunity.” Speed requires them to be decided within their time frame; otherwise, the decision would become academic and useless. Responsiveness requires the judiciary to address issues squarely, clearly and forcefully.

Professorial chairs. Without detailing “when the judiciary will step forward, and when the judiciary will step backward,” the Chief Justice lauded the FLP’s ideals of liberty and prosperity, saying “the advocacy of these twin beacons of justice is of vital importance to the nation. It is only in a just society that the economy can thrive.”

During the launch, the FLP honored its first seven chair holders: retired Justices Adolfo Azcuna and Antonio Eduardo Nachura, and law Deans Andres Bautista, Sedfrey Candelaria, Danilo Concepcion, Jose Manuel Diokno and Nilo Divina. Three others from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao will be named soon.

Speaking on behalf of the recipients, Ateneo Law Dean Candelaria explained that “the mandate given us to undertake original research and other means to disseminate the concept of liberty and prosperity requires legal creativity to sift through the wealth of experiences and concerns confronting the nation or the international community and, eventually, weave these facts together in preparation for a thorough analysis.”

He added that “the context within which the concept of liberty and prosperity is tested cuts across various disciplines and concerns, such as law, economics, politics, human rights, business and development,” and concluded with the “hope that the lectures and other activities in the subsequent months and years will create a ripple effect and promote a paradigm that will find its way to judicial service, continuing legal education, but, more importantly, with the concomitant impact on the daily lives of our citizens.”

On to the world. On Sept. 19, the very next day after the formal launch, Candelaria delivered his first lecture as a FLP chair holder at Ateneo de Manila, where he raised the level of discussion and analyzed the role of the International Monetary Fund and other global developmental agencies in solving the economic crises that arose from the ashes of the last two world wars to the current imbroglio in Europe.

His foray to the world stage reminded me of the Global Forum on Liberty and Prosperity held in Makati on Oct. 18-20, 2006, which capped my term as chief justice. Attended by over 300 jurists and lawyers from six continents, the Forum was highlighted by several chief magistrates who all endorsed the twin concepts as pivots of good governance and good economics.

As a footnote, the academe added flavor to the Forum by the grant of honorary doctoral degrees to Canadian Chief Justice Beverley McLacklin by Ateneo de Manila; Russian Chief Justice Vyacheslav Levedev by the University of Santo Tomas; and French Chief Justice Guy Canivet by Far Eastern University. McLacklin and Levedev are still sitting but Canivet, like me, has retired.

Then and now, these twin concepts of liberty and prosperity are accepted norms of national and international development. In fact, Chief Justice McLacklin went as far as proposing that the twin concepts work best under the rule of law. Thus, I agreed to her proposal that my legal philosophy should be titled in full as “liberty and prosperity under the rule of law.”

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