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With Due Respect

‘Unofficial resident amicus curiae’

During this Christmas season of thanksgiving, I would like to print CJ Alexander G. Gesmundo’s speech to formally launch “With Due Respect 3,” the Inquirer’s publication in book form of my columns from 2016 to 2021. Due to space limits, I regret I had to delete about 40 percent of his talk, but the full speech can be accessed at www.sc.judiciary.gov.ph or www.libpros.com (click UPDATES).

“When I was interviewed by the Judicial and Bar Council for the position of Chief Justice, I remember being asked whether I was in favor of extending the term of the Justices of the Supreme Court, obviously beyond 70, perhaps something similar to that in the United States where Justices serve for life, restricted only by good behavior. I remember immediately answering that even if one can have a long productive life, extending the Justices’ term beyond 70 would be counterproductive in the long run considering the physical limitations, since at a certain point in life, the productivity of a person wanes or goes down.

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“I may have spoken too soon. Had I paused and mentally examined the list of former members of the Court, I would have realized that there is quite a number whom age has not bogged down at all, and who, even during their retirement, have continued to be as sharp and as prolific as when they were holding office in the Supreme Court. From among this list, one easily stands out, and it is this one, who today we celebrate not just his 85th birthday, but also the launching of his book, ‘With Due Respect 3,’ the third compilation of selected articles he wrote for the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

“Indeed, retired Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban is proving to be the best argument to lifetime tenure for Justices of the High Court. At two decades my senior, he has remained as incisive and lucid as when he was writing his ponencias for the Court.

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“But the secret to his longevity and endurance, one can easily glean from his life… (Deleted is CJ Gesmundo’s narration of my bio.)

“For me, the one accomplishment of Chief Justice Art I envy the most is his incomparable ability to remain relevant. Irrelevance, inconsequence, insignificance, these I have been told, are the dreaded curse accompanying retirement. From the highest position in one of only three branches of government, from being number 5 in terms of protocol plate number, hitting 70 ushers in a veritable downgrading to what has been described as a shockingly quiet, unremarked, even obscure existence. But not for Chief Justice Art. Here he is at 85, 15 years after his retirement from the Court, looking younger than ever, still spry and vigorous, and, most importantly, very, very relevant.

“Chief Justice Art has mastered the Art of Relevance (I suggest you use this as the title of your next book, Chief Justice Art) through his passionate involvement in diverse fields of interest. Tonight, we celebrate in particular what for me is his most influential and potent tool for remaining relevant—his writing, his Inquirer op-ed column, to be specific. Through his column, sagely titled ‘With Due Respect,’ Chief Justice Art undeniably continues to be a resonant voice, not just heard but read and listened to by many, from people with no legal background, to lawyers and law students, justices and judges alike, and even those of us currently sitting in the High Court. His columns discuss the burning legal issues of the day with more freedom than he had when he was sitting in the Court bound by its rules and proscriptions.

“Not in a few instances, Chief Justice Art has articulated sentiments and views which incumbent members of the Court could only wish to say themselves. His analyses of jurisprudence are incisive and can cut to the quick, but are always insightful. He likewise continues to write about his passion for reform, which he promoted assiduously as a Chief Justice … In all these, he always exhibits the utmost respect for the Court and its rules, even as he staunchly advocates what he believes is right and just in the circumstances, at times even mischievously, if I dare say. Chief Justice Art has thus successfully continued to ‘have his say,’ so to speak, on the weighty matters involving the courts and the legal system, even well into his second decade after retirement. What a truly exceptional feat…

“In his October 31, 2021 column, Chief Justice Art wrote, ‘Modesty aside, I was happy at my tenure in the Court. And yet a yearning throbbed deep in my heart that I have not done enough…’ It is a surprise that the Chief Justice who wrote a thousand decisions and several books is talking about not having done enough when he was in the High Court. In hindsight, perhaps, this is where my answer to the JBC question would find some relevance. Whether we think we have done so much or so little during our tenure in the Court, the work is never finished. Whether we work until 70, 80, or until our Creator calls us, we would still regret not having done more…

“In parting, as everyone toasts and cheers Chief Justice Art for another year of accomplishments, including the third book of his collated op-ed columns ‘With Due Respect,’ allow me to thank him again, on behalf of our institution, for the service he rendered to the Philippine Judiciary, for paving the road that the Chief Justices after him have taken, and which I myself am presently treading, and for opening the gate of our minds to a relevant life after retirement, which all members of the Supreme Court will be facing for a certain point in time. Chief Justice Art, we shall look forward to the fourth installment of ‘With Due Respect’ or the maiden issue of ‘The Art of Relevance.’ and to more opinions from you, our unofficial resident amicus curiae. Cheers!”

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