Antonio Carpio: Our one-man Justice League
Not worth a comment.” That was how the recently retired Associate Justice Antonio Carpio once responded to the rambling insults of no less than a president, who has shown little qualms about descending to the pits to humiliate his opponents. Revealing the depth of his character, Justice Carpio chose dignified silence in response.
One can only imagine the amount of self-control the magistrate must have mustered in the face of such hostility and intimidation. This commendable strength of character is in itself a remarkable achievement, reflecting Carpio’s leadership mettle and steely personal resolve.
One may not agree with all of Carpio’s key decisions, but no one can question his efficiency, integrity and love for the country. He is among the few magistrates in the world who judiciously ensured there was a “zero case backlog” before his departure from office following almost two decades in service.
As Carpio said during his farewell address: “It was a very long journey allowing me to write 935 full-blown decisions, 79 dissenting opinions, 30 concurring opinions, 13 separate opinions and four concurring and dissenting opinions, leaving no backlog.”
Now that’s what you call work ethic — precisely what has been lacking in many of our top leaders today, who seem fond of luxurious junkets and no-shows in global fora. Though cut from different ideological clothes, Carpio reminds me of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing earlier this year.
When asked about how he manages his packed schedule, the then 93-year-old Malaysian leader nonchalantly said: “I don’t know how I manage. I always attend meetings. It’s my duty.”
In his decades of service, Mahathir hardly ever showed any sign of indolence and arrogant complacency. More importantly, he is known as a faithful husband and loving father, with few counterparts in the Philippine corridors of power. I vividly remember Mahathir’s wife, Dr. Siti Hasmah binti Haji Mohamad Ali, sitting close to her husband during our interview to show her support and devotion.
Carpio, meanwhile, has proven himself to be not only an efficient statesman, but also an exemplar of public decency and human compassion. In many ways, he is a classic statesman in the mold of the ancient leaders of Rome, who displayed remarkable stoicism in the face of great adversity. Think of Lucius Annaeus Seneca, who not only maintained utmost equanimity during Emperor Nero’s reign of terror, but also stubbornly preserved the integrity of the Roman republic against all odds.
Though born in the imperial periphery (Córdoba, Hispania), Seneca managed to bypass the Roman elite to achieve unparalleled influence and support despite lacking patrician lineage. Like Seneca, Carpio managed to climb to the pinnacle of prestige and power through sheer hard work, intelligence and love for the Republic. He embodies the Roman statesman’s wise advice: “He who is brave is free.”
And bravery is precisely what the retired Justice has displayed in his years-long battle not only against the temptations of power, but also for the preservation of the integrity of the country. While many of our most veteran politicians remain either shamelessly silent or even encourage collective kowtowing to foreign aggression, Carpio has held fast to his patriotic convictions against all odds.
Seneca’s bravery and independence ultimately cost him his life, as Nero sought the blood of anyone who challenged the burning madness of his unhinged leadership. In Carpio’s case, it cost him his career, making him, in the words of Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, “the best Chief Justice we never had.”
But, as Carpio made it clear in one of his speeches, one should willingly embrace personal sacrifice for a higher cause. “Th[ere] is an integrity that you must also protect and safeguard with your own life, if necessary. I am referring to the territorial integrity of our country.”
Carpio is a burning candle in a tunnel of blinding darkness, a beacon of hope against the twin evils of despair and cynicism that are viciously threatening our democracy and collective sanity. Who needs the Avengers, when we have our own superheroes in flesh and blood?
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