Forums in San Carlos and San Beda

First published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer / 05:08 AM October 21, 2018

Last Wednesday, I spoke in two legal forums. The first was at the top-notch School of Law and Governance of the University of San Carlos in Cebu, where I seconded Dean Joan S. Largo’s pivotal lecture on how our economic rights trumpeted by the 1987 Constitution can be enforced by the judiciary.

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Having just returned from a “learning visit on clinical education” in the United States, the young and energetic dean, one of the 13 holders of the “Chief Justice Panganiban Professorial Chairs on Liberty and Prosperity,” began with a contrast of “how the poor, in a country of the rich, grappled with the notion of justice. One thing is certain, the road to justice is paved by the access to justice of the powerless.”

She then compared this situation with another glaring contrast, this time in our country: Despite the repeated invocations by its framers that our 1987 Charter is “pro-poor,” that social justice is the “heart of this Constitution,” and that “[t]alk of people’s freedom and legal equality would be empty as long as they continue to live in destitution and misery,” our economic rights have remained mere grandiose rhetoric to this day.

More than three decades after the Constitution took effect, our people still wallow in grinding poverty. This sad reality is caused in part by the failure of Congress to pass enabling legislation to substantiate and fulfill these benevolent invocations.

The solution lies in urging our Supreme Court to be as “bold and daring” as the highest courts in South Africa, Colombia and Argentina “in enforcing economic rights not only in the laws but also in judicial edicts” like the writ of prosperity.

After all, “[n]owhere can we find a constitution so humane, and a court so powerful than in the Philippines, making a writ of prosperity truly feasible if the Philippine judiciary wants it.”

To claims that the reticence in enforcing economic rights is due to the utter lack of resources, Largo gamely retorted, “Indeed, it is in countries with the scarcest of resources that the writ of prosperity lends itself to greatest relevance and importance… When a court issues the writ… it does no more than prod the elected branches… to comply with the legal standards and mandates embodied in the Constitution.”

Readers may access Largo’s lecture in full at http://www.libpros.com.

On my part as chair of the Foundation for Liberty and Prosperity, I asked Dean Largo to seek the help of her colleagues in the Philippine Association of Law Schools (PALS), which she heads, to use the “rights-conferring declarations” of the Constitution to determine which of the many economic rights can be the subject of judicial enforcement sans legislation.

I also urged her and her PALS colleagues to use the rule of law to unleash the entrepreneurial ingenuity of our people. What our nation needs 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. My talk can be accessed at the same website.

Hosted by the San Beda Law Alumni Association, the second forum was a testimonial dinner for recently promoted Bedans, including Supreme Court Justices Jose C. Reyes Jr. and Ramon Paul L. Hernando, Ombudsman Samuel R. Martires, Sandiganbayan Justices Maryann C. Manalac and Kevin Narce B. Vivero, Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Emilio B. Aquino, Deputy Commissioner Arnel S. Guballa of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and several others.

My extemporaneous message was simple: Bedans reached their lofty offices with the expectation that they will outperform the graduates of another university who, in the past, cornered most of these exalted posts. While there may be bad eggs in the San Beda basket, the vast majority are good and selfless.

I challenged them to prove by their deeds, more than by their words, that their immersion in “Ora et Labora” will result in prudent and graft-free governance. And, yes, amid their roars and cheers, I reminded them that their fellow Red Lions and harshest critics, Sen. Leila de Lima and former Sen. Rene A. V. Saguisag, are ready to pounce on their lapses and missteps.