(Message delivered by Rep. Edcel C. Lagman of the First District of Albay at the 19th National Convention and Seminar of the Metropolitan and City Judges Association of the Philippines Inc. in Legazpi City on 21 September 2017)
Honorable Judges, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Considering that today marks the 45th Anniversary of the declaration of martial law by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos on September 21, 1972, allow me to preface my message with relevant annotations on Marcos’ martial law regime.
The promulgation of martial law in the entire Philippines ignited the beginning of 14 ignominious years of power grab by Marcos wherein he was not only the overstaying Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines but also legislator and in most cases, judicial magistrate.
During the dark years of martial law, Marcos caused the repression, enforced disappearance, torture and killing of countless human rights violation victims; he plundered the economy and amassed ill-gotten hoards estimated to reach more than US$10-B; he allowed cronies to inordinately and criminally enrich themselves; he ballooned the foreign debt from US$1-B in 1965 to US$ 28-B in 1986, the payment of which, including the behest loans, stifled the budget of the subsequent administrations at the expense of socio-economic services; and he submerged the economy to negative Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth.
Marcos did not only padlock the Congress, arrest titans in the political opposition, detain media personalities and take over sensitive business enterprises and utilities, but he also marginalized judges and the judiciary. In fact, he emasculated the judiciary and derogated judicial independence.
Marcos promulgated General Order No. 2 dated 22 September 1972 which implemented the Arrest, Search and Seizure Order (ASSO). Through ASSO, he, not the courts, ordered the arrest of prominent members of the opposition, leftist personalities and even ordinary citizens.
Through the PCO (Presidential Commitment Order) and the PDA (Preventive Detention Action), Marcos arrested and detained alleged “enemies of the State” indefinitely, and denied them the rights to bail and to trial. This indubitably depreciated the role of the judiciary.
On September 29, 1972, he issued Letter of Instruction No. 11 (LOI 11) which commanded that, “all officers of the national government whose appointments are vested in the President of the Philippines submit their resignations from office, thru their Department Heads, not later than October 15, 1972”, including members of the judiciary, except those in the Supreme Court.
According to Law Dean and Chairperson of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), Atty. Jose Manuel Diokno, “From the moment he signed LOI 11, Marcos stripped the judges of their independence. Thus, justice no longer depended on the merits of case, but the closeness of the lawyers and parties to the Marcoses.” (InterAksyon.com)
Marcos was so influential over certain members of the Supreme Court, that when leaders of the opposition challenged the validity of the “ratification” of the 1973 Constitution by mere acclamation of Citizens’ Assemblies, and not through a requisite plebiscite, the High Court shockingly upheld the so-called raising-of-hands “ratification”.
Many decisions of the High Court then sustained the validity of the imposition of martial law and the presidential edicts issued by Marcos.
I am recounting all of these so that martial law during which the judiciary was marginalized and derogated will serve as a fitting backdrop from which your convention theme “ Judicial Office – A Public Trust” can be projected in bold relief.
The independence of the judiciary must not only be protected and insulated from partisan pressures and extraneous forces, but true independence must come from within individual judges who truly honor their office as a public trust.
The Constitution is unequivocal: “Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with outmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.” (Sec. 1 of Art. XI on Accountability of Public Officers). According to the Supreme Court in Duque vs. Veloso (G.R. No. 196201, June 19, 2012) “These constitutionally-enshrined principles oft-repeated in our case law, are not mere rhetorical flourishes or idealistic sentiments. They should be taken as working standards by all in the public service.”
No other functionary or personnel in government is the best exemplar of public trust than the magistrate in all levels of the judiciary, including of course Metropolitan and City Judges.
Thus, the Supreme Court in the following cases categorically pronounced:
1. In De La Llama vs. Alba (G.R. No. L-57883, March 12, 1992), the Supreme Court held:
“The Constitution does not speak in the language of ambiguity: ‘A public office is a public trust’. That is more than a moral adjuration. It is a legal imperative. x x x It is from that standpoint that the security of tenure provision to assure judicial independence is to be viewed. It is an added guarantee that justices and judges can administer justice undeterred by any fear of reprisal or untoward consequence. Their judgment then are even more likely to be inspired solely by their knowledge of the law and the dictates of their conscience, free from the corrupting influence of base or unworthy motives.”
2. In Borromeo vs. Mariano (G.R. No. L-16808, January 3, 1921), Justice Malcolm categorized good judges as “men who have a mastery of the principles of law, who discharge their duties in accordance with law, who are permitted to perform the duties of the office undeterred by outside influence, and who are independent and self-respecting human units in a judicial system equal and coordinate to the other two departments of government.”
3. In Buccat vs. Buccat (G.R. No. 47101, April 25, 1941), it was held that:
“Every employee of the judiciary should be an example of integrity, uprightness and honesty. Like any public servant, he must exhibit the highest sense of honesty and integrity not only in the performance of his official duties but in his personal and private dealing with other people, to preserve the court’s good name and standing. It cannot be overstressed that the image of a court of justice in mirrored in the conduct, official and otherwise, of the personnel who work thereat, from the judge to the lowest of its personnel.”
4. The Supreme Court through Justice Cecilia Munoz-Palma, cited in Estrada vs. Escritor (A.M. No. P-02-1651, August 4, 2003), pronounced that:
“The image of the court of justice is necessarily mirrored in the conduct, official or otherwise, on the men and women who work thereat, from the judge to the least and lowest of its personnel. Hence, it becomes the imperative sacred duty of each and everyone in the court to maintain its good name and standing as a true temple of justice.”
Today, the independence of the judiciary is again under threat. No less than Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who is at the apex of the judicial system, is facing impeachment proceedings before the House Committee on Justice. This is perceived as a reprisal against the Chief Justice for her tirades against President Duterte’s abysmal lack of respect for human rights, due process and the rule of law.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines has sternly warned that impeachment must be used as a process of last resort, implying that it must not be wielded as an instrument of persecution.
I beseech the Metropolitan and City Judges Association of the Philippines to be the first among the association of judges to consider adopting a resolution denouncing the grievous and partisan importuning of the current administration in pursuing an unwarranted and baseless complaint for impeachment against the Chief Magistrate.
I hope that the assault on the independence of the judiciary is not coming full circle from the crippling regime of martial law under Marcos, even as President Duterte publicly idolizes the dictator Marcos.
Safeguarding the independence of the judiciary is an indispensable component of your judicial office and integral to your mandate to uphold public trust.
Do not be afraid or timid in defending your independence against improvident incursions. As Honorable Judges, you are the best sentinels to protect and insure your genuine independence.
Thank you and more power to all of you.