The Law Student / Lost Student: Understanding Liberty and Prosperity Under The Rule of Law

By: Patricia Anne Alarios

Ateneo de Manila University


        Liberty, prosperity, and rule of law ⸺ these are the key concepts that stand as the pillars of the philosophy espoused by retired Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban.[1] In many of his speaking engagements, he always endeavors to ground his message on the very precept that continues to serve as his guiding principle.[2]

        This essay will discuss my understanding of the philosophy of liberty and prosperity under the rule of law. Truth be told, the process of writing this piece involved a re-examination of my own values and principles. A necessary introspection came about when I started thinking about how I can adopt the philosophy in my own way as a law student and a future lawyer.

I. The Philosophy as a Policy

        As a judicial policy, liberty and prosperity under the rule of law entails a two-pronged approach depending on the issue raised.[3] When the legal question arises from state actions that curtail civil and political rights, the Court must adopt a stricter standard against the government and in favor of upholding the rights of the people.[4] On the other hand, when the subject governmental measure pertains to economic rights, the Court will take a deferential stance to the executive and legislative departments.[5]

        This framework sounded very familiar to me as I recalled my Constitutional Law 1 lessons on the strict scrutiny test and the rational basis test. The analogy formed quickly in my head because the applicable standard of review depends on whether the right involved in the controversy was a civil, political, or economic right.[6] This appeared very similar to, if not exactly on point with the judicial policy explained by Chief Justice Panganiban.

        To my understanding, the different judicial standards of review exist because our legal system recognizes a hierarchy of rights by which “the primacy of human rights over property rights is recognized.”[7] As a consequence, the standards become more stringent when the right involved is positioned higher in the hierarchy.[8]

         The philosophy also requires that the means by which the objectives of liberty and prosperity will be achieved must be grounded in the rule of law.[9] By the rule of law, institutions are strengthened to be more formidable against and ideally immune from the arbitrary and abusive exercise of power.[10] Political figures and persons of authority may come and go, but as long as our laws and the institutions that enforce these laws are secured, then liberty and prosperity is expected to flourish just the same.

         Chief Justice Panganiban recognizes that the court’s role in the protection of rights is the traditionally accepted view, while its complementary role in promoting economic prosperity is the lesser known perspective.[11] Frankly, it was also not as easy for me to understand what is actually meant by the court’s role nurturing prosperity.

         Social justice is a recognized cornerstone of the ideal society.[12] Thus, my difficulty in understanding the philosophy comes from what I perceive as an inconsistency between the deferential approach in favor of government (which the philosophy calls for when economic rights are concerned) and the need to protect the rights of the vulnerable sectors of our society when economic legislations are highly debatable. Theoretically speaking, the political branches of the government are, indeed, the ones concerned with the wisdom of economic policies and measures to be adopted by the State.[13] However, I believe that the on-ground realities of our people necessitate stronger and more benevolent protection of the courts.

          I must admit that my own experiences tend to cloud my judgment especially when it comes to protection of rights of the marginalized. My college environment was a hotbed of many different ideas, ripe for development of even the most radical ideologies. This exposure taught me about the many unwarranted hardships that the vulnerable sectors go through every day of their lives. More often than not, the economic measures borne of the wisdom of the political departments directly affect the marginalized sector, who have no other choice but to seek judicial recourse in order to fight for their survival. Therefore, under a framework where economic rights are treated secondarily and the policy of the courts is to take a step back, I fear that the powerless will have nothing to hold on to at all.

          To be clear, I do not challenge the idea that liberty and prosperity must go hand in hand; actually, the fact that this philosophy has become a recognized worldview reaffirms the notion that there must be balance in the way we try to address societal problems. We all want a better society but I think the issue arises when we try to pinpoint exactly what economic growth means. To some, booming businesses is the way to go. But to the less fortunate, earning their daily keep with dignity and integrity is enough. Yet that simple wish appears to hold no weight at all when our legislators and policy makers discuss what will be good for our economy.

          Ultimately, the tension between the different ideologies in play are resolved by the true essence of the philosophy. Chief Justice Panganiban explains that whether the government decides to focus on strengthening political liberty first and thereafter address economic concerns, or vice versa, the common factor remains the same ⸺ both are necessary for development.[14] In this sense, I have come to understand that the philosophy is actually more encompassing than I first understood it to be, especially in its recognition that even if different ideologies are not on the same page as to the starting point, the meeting point will still require a healthy balance between liberty and prosperity. The inevitable end will still necessitate the balance that the philosophy requires in order for there to be stability in our society.

II. Finding The Lost / Law Student

          When I began thinking about how I can help promote this philosophy, there were not a lot of ideas that came to mind initially. One of the things I realized in my first year of law school was that my law school life practically confined me to either my school or my house. There were always just too many cases to study and laws to memorize and understand. The many engagements I had prior to law school unfortunately dwindled down to zero because I had to prioritize my studies.

          However, over time, I have come to realize that doing my best in law school is enough for now. I vividly remember a short speech that Dean Sedfrey Candelaria gave to our block during our orientation seminar. He said that we must study and understand well every case assigned to us because these cases involve real people whose lives were directly affected by resolution of the Court and that we should not to reduce them into mere statistics for academic purposes. In another instance, a professor told us that our diligence in law school will reflect how diligent we would be in handling case work for our future clients so we must train ourselves at this very moment to be as hardworking as we expect ourselves to be.

          I believe that the best word to explain what I can do as law student is magis.[15] While I first learned this term in the Ateneo, I find that it is a concept that is not exclusive to the institution. No matter how small a task may be, we should strive to do more than what is asked of us, especially when there is room to do so. It speaks of doing more in terms of quality and not merely quantity, bearing in mind the reason for choosing to be magis.[16] I believe that I owe it to the people that will be seeking my counsel in the future to do my best now so that I can be of full service to them when the time comes.

          Chief Justice Panganiban also explains to his fellow Mapans that another way to contribute to prosperity is to share “time, talent, and treasure.”[17] In fact, the philosophy is not confined to be the philosophy of members of the legal profession alone. It is enough that we act on our community spirit by being generous with our gifts. In the same manner, I can share to others the legal knowledge and advocacy that I have.

          Since I am already in my third year, I have grown more accustomed to the daily grind of law school. I have become better at adapting to the busy schedule so I am able to make time for other extra-curricular activities that I am interested in pursuing. For instance, I serve as a member of the Board of Editors of the Ateneo Law Journal.[18] Even if I only began this year, I have already learned a lot and I am still in the process of learning so much more. Editorship exposes me to a lot of articles and essays written by legal luminaries and law students, whose pieces set the groundwork for the development of legal scholarship not just in the Ateneo, but also in the whole country. The tradition of the Journal involves a continuous passing down of knowledge and skills acquired by those that have come before us. Eventually, I will be the one passing the torch and sharing my knowledge to the new editors.

          Additionally, I volunteer for the National Secretariat of the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE)[19]. This organization also finds its roots in the Ateneo, but its presence has grown nationwide. LENTE is another avenue for me to share my legal knowledge because we get exposed to the actual experiences of the people on the ground during elections. We help find legal solutions to the problems that we spot by advocating for reforms that will improve the election landscape of our country.

          Lastly, my dispute resolution track in law school requires me to take Clinical Legal Education in my senior year. These units will help me apply what I have learned about the law in order to help those who seek legal aid. Thus, even if I am still a law student, I already have the avenue to use what I know to help clients, much like a full-fledged lawyers is capable of doing. This is one experience that I look forward to in my senior year.

          These are just some of the ways that I thought would reflect the generosity that Chief Justice Panganiban was trying to explain. Law school takes a huge chunk of my time, but I have come to terms with its rigorous requests of me. Now, I am more capable of handling work that help me improve my skills and allow me to share my legal knowledge through other endeavors both in and out of law school.

III. The Lawyer’s Philosophy

          Looking forward, my long term vision as a law practitioner is to be a lawyer for the people. In all honestly, even I do not yet know what this actually means. In my head, however, I have a rough picture of being a simple lawyer that does her best to help the client. Whether I end up in government service or private firms, I imagine my work will directly help improve the lives of my fellow Filipinos.

          The main perspective that Chief Justice Panganiban takes whenever he talks about his philosophy is that of a member of the Court. Taking a similar view makes it easier to understand his advocacy. But even for people who are not members of the judiciary, the same concepts still apply. Upholding the philosophy means putting a prime on being an ethical lawyer.

          In our legal ethics class, we were asked the question whether lawyers have the correlative duty to guard the independence of the courts. This discussion proved to be one of the most striking exchange of ideas that I have ever had in my law classes. For the legal system to work well, it is not enough that our judges or lawyers alone are independent, all members of the legal profession must exert the same effort in line with strengthening this institution of truth and justice.

          Keeping all these mind, I believe that the best way for me to espouse the philosophy is to live as an ethical lawyer. Living examples are not so easy to come by these days, so more than just finding an idol to emulate, I believe that I should just start working towards becoming a lawyer that my younger self will be proud of. Hopefully, I get to inspire the same virtue in others.

          Aside from living as an ethical lawyer, a more concrete way to create ripples is to teach. I have always considered becoming a law professor after a few years in practice. I believe that our law professors play a vital role in shaping the kind of lawyers that we have. It would be my honor to join the ranks of the noble mentors who mold the future of our profession.

          To conclude, I acknowledge that there are many ways to live a life grounded on the philosophy of liberty and prosperity under the rule of law. As long as we are fair in everything that we do, no matter how small or unimportant we think the task is, then each one of us would have done the world a favor in making the just choice. In fact, one does not even need to be a lawyer to be espouse the philosophy. Under a rule of law, every one respects what is allowed by the Constitution and our laws, and lawyers should not be the only ones expected to promote this. Liberty and prosperity of our society will only exist when we all take a concerted effort to achieve it.

[1].   Artemio V. Panganiban, Retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Visionary Leadership by Example, Address at the 9th National Ayala Young Leaders Congress (Feb. 7, 2007) (transcript available at (last accessed Sep. 26, 2019)).

[2].   See Foundation on Liberty and Prosperity, CJ Panganiban’s Speeches on Liberty and Prosperity, available at (last accessed Sep. 26, 2019).

[3].   Artemio v. Panganiban, Retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Spreading the Gospel of Liberty and Prosperity, Address at the National Forum on “Liberty and Prosperity at the Manila Hotel (Aug. 24, 2006) (transcript available at (last accessed Sep. 26, 2019)).

[4].   Id.

[5].   Id.

[6].   White Light Corporation v. City of Manila, 576 SCRA 416, 436 (2009). This case explains that “two standards of judicial review were established: strict scrutiny for laws dealing with freedom of the mind or restricting the political process, and the rational basis standard of review for economic legislation.” Id.

[7].   Philippine Blooming Mills Employees Organization v. Philippine Blooming Mills Co., Inc., 51 SCRA 189, 202 (1973) (citing Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U.S. 501, 509 (1946) & Tucker v. Texas, 326 U.S. 517, 519-20 (1946)).

[8].   Philippine Blooming Mills Co., Inc., 51 SCRA at 202-03 (citing Edu v. Ericta, 35 SCRA 481, 489 (1970) & Ichong, etc., et al. v. Hernandez, etc., and Sarmiento, 101 Phil. 1155, 1165-66 (1957)).

[9].   Artemio v. Panganiban, Retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Towards a Just World Society, Address at the Asia Field Representatives Meeting (FRM) of the Canadian International Development Agency at the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel Ballroom (May 8, 2008) (transcript available at (last accessed Sep. 26, 2019)).

[10]. Id.

[11]. Id.

[12]. See Phil. Const. art. II, § 10 (“The State shall promote social justice in all phases of national development.”); Phil. Const. art. XIII, § 1 (“The Congress shall give highest priority to the enactment of measures that protect and enhance the right of all the people to human dignity, reduce social, economic, and political inequalities, and remove cultural inequities by equitably diffusing wealth and political power for the common good.”); & Phil. Const. art XIII, § 2 (“The promotion of social justice shall include the commitment to create economic opportunities based on freedom of initiative and self-reliance. The promotion of social justice shall include the commitment to create economic opportunities based on freedom of initiative and self-reliance.”).

[13]. Garcia v. Executive Secretary, 204 SCRA 516, 523 (1991).

[14]. Artemio v. Panganiban, Retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Unleashing Entrepreneurial Ingenuity, Address at the Opening Luncheon of the 12th General Assembly of the Asean Law Association (ALA) at the Makati Shangri-la Hotel (Feb. 26, 2015) (transcript available at (last accessed Sep. 26, 2019)).

[15]. Fr. Barton T. Geger, S.J. explains that the Latin adverb magis should be understood as “the more universal good[,]” rather than its more common translation of “more” or “greater.” Barton T. Geger, S.J., What Magis Really Means and Why It Matters (A Paper Published Online by Xavier University) at 19, available at https://www.
Copy.pdf (last accessed Sep. 26, 2019).

[16]. James Martin, S.J., Magis, available at (last accessed Sep. 26, 2019).

[17]. Artemio v. Panganiban, Retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Safeguard Liberty, Conquer Poverty, Share Prosperity (Part One – For the Alumni of Mapa High), Address at the Grand Alumni Homecoming of the Mapa High School at the Metro Tent, Ortigas Center, Pasig City (Feb. 23, 2014) (transcript available at (last accessed Sep. 26, 2019)).

[18]. “The Ateneo Law Journal, a fully student-run legal and academic journal, was founded in 1951. … The Journal [presents] an opportunity for students to harness their legal writing and research skills beyond the demands of classroom routine.” Ateneo de Manila University School of Law, The Ateneo Law Journal – A History, available at (last accessed Sep. 26, 2019).

[19]. “[LENTE] is the first nationwide network of volunteer lawyers, law students and paralegals trained and deployed to monitor elections in the Philippines.” Legal Network for Truthful Elections, About Lente, available at (last accessed Sep. 26, 2019).