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With Due Respect

Reactions to comments and questions

Friends often inquire, “Why do you not react to online comments — even those that are outright erroneous, outrageous, malicious, and hideous?”

Answer: Online comments are uploaded by inquirer.net in the spirit of “Balanced News, Fearless Views.” Often, the comments balance and correct one another. Readers may choose whom and what to believe. That is the essence of free expression, which includes the freedom to be silent. At times, stoic silence washes more than a torrent of invectives.

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Of course, I am peeved by gutter language, ad hominem, non sequitur, misquotation, and anonymity. I will not hesitate to sue violators of the cybercrime law. But I will just let irrelevancies, illogicalities, and falsities end in the basket of wasted opinions.

I do not dispense long-distance advice. Every case is unique and requires an ascertainment of specific facts and applicable laws. As Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said, “General propositions do not decide concrete cases.” Readers should consult a good legal practitioner, or the Public Attorney’s Office, or the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.

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OPINION

Upon joining the Supreme Court, I dissolved our law office. After I retired, I did not join, directly or indirectly, any law firm, even as “of counsel.” Had I resumed law practice, judges — who have been under me — may be suspected of bias if my law firm, or I, appeared before them as counsel; worse, if I won.

I usually reply to emailed questions that are relevant to my column, even if they are veiled with innuendo, sarcasm, or disbelief, if not of disrespect. Anyway, I invariably assume good faith, and answer without meanness.

For example, reacting to my piece on May 24 advising offended parties to be vigilant in overseeing their cases, a reader asked, “Sir, I read your subject article just now. My questions, viz[:]

“1. Will you accept in our country, justice delay[ed] is justice denied? 2. Were you part of it, when you were chief justice? 3. Is justice only afforded in favor of the rich, influential people in our country? 4. Is your conscience not bothering you on the poor state of the judicial system in your own country? 5. Last not the least, is the legal profession a noble profession? In the name of our [F]ather almighty in heaven, be humble enough.”

Due to space limits,I will just reprint my instant, straight answers to Questions 2 and 4:

“2. No, in all humility, I retired with no backlog in my personal docket. I was initially given 1,200 [should be 1,100] cases when I started as an associate justice in 1995, plus 30 [should be 45] more raffled to me every month thereafter. I reduced them to 200, all of them current, upon my retirement as chief justice in 2006. When I was CJ, I instituted ‘Operation Zero Backlog’ precisely to tackle delayed cases in the entire Court. All these facts can be culled from the books I wrote, one for every year of my incumbency in the Court. That is why Justice Antonio T. Carpio exclaimed when I retired, ‘Chief Justice Panganiban is the Court’s most prolific writer, bar none.’ Please read my books for details. They are available in the Supreme Court library and in the libraries of many law schools… Or, if you have no time to research, just read the ‘Plaque of Acclamation’ signed unanimously by all the 14 associate justices, and given to me when I retired in 2006. A copy is in my website, cjpanganiban.com

“4. No, I did my part when I was in the Court. However, I have no ‘holier-than-thou’ complex in dealing with the incumbent Court and its justices…”

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I appreciate fair comments even if opposed to mine, like Justice Adolf S. Azcuna’s text message on my June 7 column: “I respectfully disagree with your piece today CJ because as stated in my ponencia, the US had validated the (MDF) by giving us foreign aid since under the Hickenlooper Amendment to the US Foreign Aid Act only allies of the US qualify for such aid…” I replied I would print his text.

I also appreciate emailed quips, such as Gen. Antonio Sotelo’s “If 10 lawyers read your article, you will receive 11 opinions.” Similarly, on my July 19 piece, I welcome Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez’s: “Chief, thank you but I wonder why you keep citing me and my decision in David v. Arroyo.” My reply: “I will not cease doing so because your career and your decision exemplify how to rise from human mortality to judicial immortality.”

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