SPEECH by Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo as Guest of Honor

Our birthday celebrant, retired Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban; Inquirer Group of Companies President and Group Chief Executive Officer, Ms. Sandy Prieto-Romualdez; Distinguished Guests; Ladies and Gentlemen, Good Afternoon.

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 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 counter-productive in the long run considering the physical limitations, since at a certain point in life, the productivity of a person wanes or goes down.

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 a 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. But the secret to his longevity and endurance, one can easily glean from his life.

Chief Justice Art is a self-made man. We know of his humble origins, that he is a product of the Philippine public school system in his primary and secondary education. He then studied at the Far Eastern University for his Associate in Arts and Bachelor of Laws degrees. His academic history, culminating in the 1960 bar examination, where he placed 6th, is nothing less than sterling.

Chief Justice Art was mentored in legal practice by one of the greatest legal minds of our country, Senator Jovito Salonga. But his career has been multi-dimensional and is not confined to the field of law – he was appointed to various important positions in non-legal organizations, including the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), the World Tourism Organization, the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), and the Rotary Club of Manila.
He was also an Honorary Consul to the Republic of Honduras and is the only Filipino appointee of now Saint Pope John Paul II to the Pontifical Council for the Laity. And for his crowning achievement, the annals of the Judiciary bear witness to the 10 years that Chief Justice Art served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, before he was appointed as its Chief Justice on December 20, 2005, until his retirement the following year. While with the Court, Chief Justice Art has been recorded to have authored more than 1,000 ponencias, not counting resolutions.

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 3 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, With Due Respect, 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 his column, he has featured reformists in the ranks of the Judiciary, and the innovations and best practices these rising stars have contributed for the betterment of our service, whether on alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, court management techniques, and judicial education breakthroughs. 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.

There is no doubt that Chief Justice Art has shown us a different perspective and given us a clearer analysis of current events and issues. Through his articles, he has enlightened the minds of Filipinos, creating an impact on the lives of many.

As I launch my own campaign for reforms in the Judiciary during my tenure, I hope that Chief Justice Art’s like advocacy will prod him to provide a platform for the transformative plans and programs we will implement to effect much needed changes in our systems, both adjudicative and administrative. The power of his relevance will surely be a potent aid in the coming days as the Court champions 3 target outcomes: efficiency, innovation and access, founded on the guiding principle that the delivery of justice must be timely and fair, transparent and accountable, equal and inclusive, and propelled by adaptive management. The next 5 years will foreseeably be very challenging and arduous, but we are hopeful that by the end of that term, the Filipino people will finally be served justice real time, when they need it, when the circumstances demand it.

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…”1 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. I believe, however, that by hanging our robes at 70, we assure the continuity, maybe not, although hopefully, of our plans and programs, but of the institution itself. That through a continuous stream of justices brought about by a steady retirement, the institution is revitalized and with the infusion of new blood, of equally dependable and competent magistrates, the institution will survive, through technological advancements, unprecedented pandemic, and what have you.

The life of Chief Justice Art equally argues for a fixed tenure for justices of the High Court. For more than anything else, he has proven that one can be more prolific and more productive even outside the Court, and one needs only the drive to continue to be able to serve our people even in a private capacity.

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 6 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 4th 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!