Way to a Happy, Free and Prosperous Society

Remarks delivered by Retired Chief Justice ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN in response to the lecture delivered by Joan S. Largo, Dean of the University of San Carlos School of Law and Governance and President of the Philippine Association of Law Schools on October 17, 2018 at the Buttenbruch Hall of the University of San Carlos, Cebu City.


Let me begin by saying how amazed I am that just a few days after Dean Joan S. Largo arrived from, to quote her, “a learning visit on clinical education” in the United States, she was ready with a scholarly and authoritative lecture, backed by a PowerPoint, that she just delivered so eloquently before this appreciative audience of the best and brightest legal minds in Cebu.

I thank her and her colleagues in the Philippine Association of Law Schools (PALS), which she now heads, for their support of my philosophy of liberty and prosperity under the rule of law and of my advocacy for a writ of prosperity. With such display of unity in the academe, I believe, in time, we can successfully craft well-vetted “Rules of the Writ of Prosperity” that we can propose for the promulgation of our Supreme Court.

In her lecture, Dean Largo focused on the constitutional provisions on social justice and human rights which the government, particularly the political branches, have not been able to implement and enforce. She emphasized, and rightly so, on the need to arm the least, the last and the lost: the dirt poor, the marginalized and the powerless with a way to compel our government to uplift their plight. She cited the efforts of the highest courts of other countries, like South Africa, Argentina and Columbia, in using their authority to help alleviate the poor’s angst, pain and suffering.

Simple but profound truth

In my response to Dean Largo, let me also cite other countries to drive to home an analogous point, this time no longer a plea for direct assistance or dole-outs in terms of “conditional transfers” of cash, or cheap rice, or communal housing, or socialized medicine.

Taking off from a speech I delivered before the Asean Law Association a few years ago, let me begin with a famous quotation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “If a man does not have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness.” Let me repeat that, “If a man does not have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness.”

It may seem ironic that I should be citing an American civil rights icon in this august audience of patriotic Filipinos, but like Dean Largo who cited foreign jurisprudence to buttress her cause, I did so not because of Dr. King’s nationality, color, gender or religion. I quoted him because of the truth he said so simply yet so profoundly.

I cited him because precisely of my belief that truth is eternal and limitless; that truth is not bound by sovereignty, or territory, or ideology, or legality; that what is true in America is also true in the Philippines, in Africa, in South America and in the world. And that that truth is this: humans need both justice and jobs; freedom and food; ethics and economics; peace and development; liberty and prosperity; these twin beacons must always go together; one is useless without the other.

Now, even in retirement, I still continue my advocacy for these twin beacons of liberty and prosperity. Thus in 2011, five years after my retirement from the judiciary, when I celebrated my 75th birthday, I organized the Foundation for Liberty and Prosperity, which now sponsors several educational programs, namely, 13 professorial chairs in various law schools, 20 full law scholarships at P200,000 each, in which some USC students are recipients, and a dissertation contest, in which a USC student, Tess Marie Tan, won the second place, second only to Raphael Pangalangan, a Filipino graduate student of the University of Oxford in Great Britain, who copped the first place.

To repeat, there are certain truths that transcend sovereignties, territories, ideologies and legalities. And one of those truths is this: The best way to conquer poverty, to create wealth and to share prosperity is to unleash the entrepreneurial genius of people by granting them the freedom and the tools to help themselves and society.

Saving the fisherman    

Let me push my thesis further by quoting a popular adage from Confucius, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Indeed, to save a fisherman from destitution, we must help him learn how to fish more effectively. We must educate him in the skills needed to catch fish more efficiently, assist him in acquiring a boat, allow him the freedom to sail the vast oceans, and teach him the techniques to market the fish he catches.

Sometimes, some of us fear that the fisherman may get lost and die in the storms that batter the seas; or that he may become selfish and would want to own the entire ocean and its vast resources; or that he may become too rich and powerful and metamorphose into a rival, an enemy, or worse, a master. Such fears of possible misjudgments may indeed happen some of the time. Human arrogance, greed and avarice lurk in all undertakings. But they are the exceptions rather than the rule. We must never stop dreaming for fear that reality may shatter our dreams. We must admit that risks and challenges form part of the interesting reality of being human.

On the other hand, I respectfully believe that the goal of governance and of law is to provide guarantees and incentives to help the fisherman prosper, to create the institutions to support him, and to promulgate minimal regulations to prevent him from appropriating all the fishing grounds, from keeping all the earnings to himself and from forgetting his obligation to pay reasonable taxes to the government. Indeed, government must inspire him to share his consequential wealth with the rest of society.

Validating the truth

Let me take you briefly around the world to validate this simple truth. The United States, the most powerful country in the world and the great promoter of liberal democracy, attained affluence because of the pioneers who defied monarchical tyrannies and started a new nation that unleashed the inventive, innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of people like Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, J.P. Morgan, and lately of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, as well of great government leaders like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Barack Obama who provided them with the encouragement to attain their dreams and the good governance to contain their greed and share their wealth.

Then, let us go to China, the second most powerful economy in the world and the prime promoter of the communist system. True, Mao Zedong led the masses in a revolt that dislodged the corrupt and inefficient government born of an outdated monarchy. But it was Deng Xiaoping who led this nation to unparalleled economic prosperity by unleashing the entrepreneurial ingenuity of the Chinese under his “One-Country-Two-Systems” philosophy.

Finally, let me bring you to Korea. As a result of World War II, this country was divided into North and South, which unfortunately could not accept their division and engaged in a terrible war that ruined their economies and impoverished their people. Rising from the ruins, South Korea relied on the entrepreneurial spirit of the Korean people and built on their private initiative as well as on the notion that innovation, creativity, freedom and hard work would enable them to conquer their poverty, provide for their family’s well-being and attain affluence.

In contrast, North Korea – despite its technological and military bravado – wallows in abject poverty as a result of its tight grip on creativity and inordinate fear of the entrepreneurship, education, freedom and prosperity of its people.

Entrepreneurship in the Philippines

I believe that given the same climate of free enterprise, our people can rise to the challenges of innovation, creativity and ingenuity and free themselves of extreme poverty, disease, malnutrition and disability. All they need is a government that affords opportunities for education instead of habitual mendicancy, fosters free competition instead of suffocating regulations, and rewards talent and hard work instead of sycophancy and connection.

The best proofs of this assertion are our overseas Filipino workers. Our engineers, technicians and house helps are treasured in Europe and the Middle East. Our professionals, doctors and nurses, succeed much better than many natives in the United States, Canada and Australia. In fact, the average Filipino professionals earn more than the average Caucasians in those countries. Moreover, they are law-abiding, they observe strict traffic rules simply because these rules are enforced evenly and fairly.

Yes, I conclude this response to Dean Largo with the firm belief that if our Filipino brethren are accord liberty, prosperity and the rule of law, they will use their entrepreneurial ingenuity to uplift themselves from destitution, disease and disability. Our responsibility – as leaders of the academe and the legal profession – is how we can harness the rule of law to enable them to form and enjoy a happy, free and prosperous society.

Maraming salamat po.