The Davide Standard (Book Review)

I recently found some academic soft copies of paperwork from a Rhetoric class I took in order to complete the English units required in Law School.  I was forced to take this subject in 2001-2002 from an MA in Language and Literature subject.  It was the only available subject I could find that would fit my work and law school schedules. The work below is one paper among a few of the course requirements I submitted.  Others will also be posted before I lose the files.  

Thank you, Ma'am Vicky Rico-Costina, for adopting me in your class.  It was a very enriching class. Congratulations for your recently published book, "For Those Who Love Cats"

WARNING:  This is purely academic and will surely bore you to death, unless you're studying law or interested in knowing what law studies is all about, though in real law school life students don't read books like these.  In general, students only read Bar Exam-related textbooks.  Some may disagree, but I think that's a fact.  I doubt if I would have read this book from cover to cover had this not been a required assignment in my Rhetoric class, what with all those volumes of law textbooks and cases.  Anyway, here goes.

Chief Justice Davide at the 2004 presidential ...Chief Justice Davide Image via Wikipedia
There is always a face or some faces that will be associated with every movement, open for everyone to recognize as a marker in the collective experience of a nation.
The Philippines has just celebrated the first year anniversary of the EDSA II people’s power revolution.  In remembering this event one would also be reminded of one face at the center of the blockbuster impeachment trial.

  Hilario G. Davide, Jr., the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines was beamed into the television sets of almost every Filipino household, office, canteen, barber shop – practically every place where a functioning television exists.  As Chief Justice, he was mandated by the Constitution to preside over the impeachment trial of President Joseph Estrada.  As the trial unfolded, people started to wonder who the Honorable man was.  They were given a rare glimpse of the person occupying the highest position in the highest Court in the land.

The Chief Justice silently captivated the curious minds of his viewers from the first day of the trial to the climatic Arroyo oath-taking at EDSA II.  From day one people wondered what kind of a Chief Justice this man was.  They speculated on his orders or rulings:  “Will this man be able to rise up to the occasion and preside with the ‘cold neutrality’ that is expected of judges and Justices?”  As the events unfolded right in front of their television screens the doubts and the questions were all flushed out, with the flushing out of the former President himself.

            Thus, in the year 2001 the country was able to know and admire the Chief Justice.  More than a year before he became one of Philippine television’s main stays however, a book was already written about him.  It was entitled “Leadership by Example:  The Davide Standard” and was written by one of his peers, Justice Artemio V. Panganiban. 

The author divided the book into two major parts:  “Towards an Ideal Judiciary” and “The Raging Court Battles.”

            “Towards an Ideal Judiciary” uses the first five chapters of the book.  Here the author describes and discusses what the Philippine Judiciary should be.  Since the Chief Justice leads not only the Supreme Court but the lower Courts also and since the Chief Justice is celebrating his first year as the “primus inter pares” then the section deals a lot with His Honor as well.  Basically this section tries to answer the questions “What should the standard of the Judiciary be?” and “What are the Chief Justice Davide’s vision, mission, and action plans toward reaching this standard?” 

This first part practically serves as an introduction for the second section of the book:  “The Raging Court Battles”.   At this point I got lost and felt misled as I thought the book would deal with Chief Justice Davide – perhaps about his life and about his works throughout the book.  It turned out that he would only be directly referred to in the first section which covers 5 chapters in 72 pages.

The second section, which uses up the remaining (246) pages, deals with 9 legal issues that the author feels strongly about.  This also includes appendices on selected quotations from the author’s ponencias, an appendix of his address at two commencement exercises, an appendix of his speech that was delivered to his fellow Rotarians, and an appendix of his letter to his grandson.  Even early in the second section of the book it becomes apparent to the reader that this section is no longer devoted to Chief Justice Davide but shifts to the author himself.  It becomes clear that “The Raging Court Battles” are not actually the “Court Battles” per se but may be described, with all due respect to the Honorable Justice, as his own Court Battles.  I will explain this further later in this review.

But before proceeding with the details of the book, I believe it would be helpful to say from the very beginning that the book is actually divided into two major parts, as mentioned above.  But it would be simpler to state that the first 23% of the book is about Chief Justice Davide and the 77% is about the author, Justice Artemio V. Panganiban.  There is a need to explain this at the outset since the title of the book, “Leadership by Example:  The Davide Standard” would lead the reader to think that the book is entirely devoted to Chief Justice Davide.  It is not so.  The first part, yes, but the second part – which constitutes the bulk of the book --   is not.
            Reading the Foreword written by Justice Davide himself and the Preface will explain why this is so.  Justice Panganiban has, as a “responsibility” that he imposed upon himself, written one book for every year of his service as an Associate Justice in the Supreme Court.  He does this in order to chronicle and make known his work for the previous year.  This explains why the book sounds and feels like it was actually more about Justice Panganiban himself rather than about Justice Davide.  He praised Justice Davide for the latter’s exemplary characteristics.  He writes shortly about the Chief Justice and his plans and effective leadership.  Despite this explanation, though, I still feel like there is a very sharp division between the two sections of the book.

            In the preface, the Chief Justice writes that this book serves as an answer to the people’s desire for transparency in the Judiciary.  Indeed among the three branches or main departments of the government the Judiciary has been the most mysterious, and least known.  This book is one of the ways in which the Supreme Court could reveal itself to the public.  The Chief Justice also writes that the contents of the book will serve as a “measuring rod” upon which the Judiciary will be evaluated since the book includes clear presentations of the judiciary and how these goals are to be achieved

            Written by an Associate Justice of the Philippines, the book obviously would be understood far more easily and clearly by readers who are acquainted with the legal profession.  Like every material written for, and by lawyers, it deals with legal issues citing laws, jurisprudence (that is, legal doctrines as established by the interpretation of the Supreme Court of the meaning of particular laws as applied to particular facts), and opinions of Justices, written in a very formal language.  Details are almost always spelled out.  Thoroughness and clarity (from the point of view of lawyers) are integral in every presentation.  This is evidenced by Justice Panganiban’s writing style where he always ends with summaries of his points.  Points are also regularly identified, enumerated and numbered -  the way evidences are marked as exhibits.  He would even go to the extent of providing epilogues in some chapters.

I.  Towards an Ideal Judiciary

            The first part of the book is written on the premise that the role of the Supreme Court is to be the “conscience of society.”  Justice Panganiban writes that in order to properly perform this role, members of the Bench and the Bar should have ideal qualities. 

            The Associate Justice writes that there is no course that teaches how to be a Supreme Court Justice.  “A justice brings to the task only his character, his intellect, his education, his imagination.”  Once he gets in the Supreme Court he applies, in addition to these attributes -- character, innovation, reflection and prayers.  He uses as his only tools --  courage, integrity and sagacity.

            The magistrate himself is a major ingredient in achieving an ideal Judiciary.  Hence, the author reprints an inspirational message he delivered in order to identify the attributes of a good judge.  He admits that judges are subject to every kind of temptations and pressures.  Some litigants, he says, even go to the extent of studying a judge’s background in order to identify a weakness that he can capitalize on. 

            In order to overcome these temptations and pressures, a judge needs to have what he calls the four “ins” --  integrity, independence, industry and intelligence.  These attributes can be preserved and promoted by means of observing the Canons of the Profession, by reading the Bible and by praying daily.  It might seem quite surprising that some of the most intellectual men in the country as Justices of the Supreme Court mention God, prayer, and personal conversion without apologies.
            After setting the role of the Justices in society and in identifying their attributes, Justice Panganiban proceeds to introduce Chief Justice Davide for according to him the latter exemplifies all the attributes of a good judge.  To explain this, the author reprints his introduction of the Chief Justice in a forum that they both attended.  According to him, Chief Justice Davide’s most salient characteristics are (1) his thoroughness and meticulousness as shown in his ponencias (that is, decisions on cases in which the justice was tasked to write), and (2) his moral courage. 

            The author further writes about the Chief Justice’ progress in leading the Court, citing as examples cases that were decided against erring judges and lawyers, proof of the Chief Justice’ determination to clean the Judiciary.  This cleaning of the judiciary is also explained by Justice Panganiban as the Chief Justice’s mandate from God.  He even quotes Justice Davide’s story that on the day of his appointment as Chief Justice, he read the Bible as he regularly does and was led to a passage in the book of Maccabees that he was to clean the Judiciary.  The Chief Justice is quoted as saying, “Plainly, without personal conversion of the individual, any dream to reform institutions or society, shall remain just that: a dream.”

            Justice Panganiban also writes on the juridical thought or legal philosophy of the Chief Justice since his thoughts, as the primus inter pares or the highest among his peers, will definitely influence the entire Court.  The author also delves on the writing style of the Chief Justice and concludes that the Chief Justice writes clearly and simply, knowing that even lay people read Supreme Court decisions.  “He avoids obiters, flamboyance and braggadocio; rather, he writes unaffectedly, without much literary flourish or pretension at poetry.”  This is in contrast to the styles of other Justices.

            The Chief Justice is also described in terms of his juridical thoughts as using the natural law school at times, at other times he sticks to the plain letter of the law and at other times he is creative, innovative and proactive.  It is also interesting to note, that Justice Panganiban in describing the Chief Justice as “creative, innovative and proactive,” cites as his example, a case where the two magistrates did not agree on a certain issue and the Chief Justice’s opinion was more persuasive, and was adopted therefore, by the other Justices.

II.  The Continuing Court Battles

            After identifying the Role of the Judiciary, the Chief Justice’s leadership and personal traits in relation to the attributes of a good judge, the author ends the first part of the book and proceeds to the chapters that mostly could be read without even following the chapters’ chronological order.  This can be done because these chapters are separate essays and treatises on “Court Battles.”  The author does not define what he means by “Court Battles” but it is evident to the reader once any chapter in the second part of the book is read.

            The chapters that comprise this section are presentations of critical legal issues.  These are issues where the Supreme Court battles within itself as regards its decisions.  In a lot of these chapters the author merely reiterated his opposition to legal issues that the Supreme Court as a single unit decided on and where the author does not agree with.  In these chapters the author displays his persuasive and incisive skills and independence in taking positions that are not supported by the majority of his peers.

            The Supreme Court is a collegiate body.  It decides through majority votes.  Once a decision by the majority is finalized, one of the Justices who took part in the decision-making is tasked to write the body’s decision.  The Justice tasked to write is called a “Ponente” and the written decision is referred to as the “Ponencia”.  Justices are also allowed to write a “Concurring opinion” if they arrive at the same decision with a different reason or “ratio decidendi.”  The Justice however, who voted against the decision of the majority may write his “Dissenting opinion.”  In doing this he also cites his reasons, the facts, the laws and the jurisprudence that he relies upon.

            It is worth enumerating the topics in this second part of the book.  They are, according to chapter titles: 

(1.)    The Death Penalty Law:  The Debate Continues; 
(2.)    Warrantless Arrests and Seizures Revisited; 
(3.)    Effect of a Void Warrant of Arrest on Jurisdiction Over the Accused; 
(4.)    Invoking the National Interest in a Labor Dispute; 
(5.)    Civil Servants’ Right to Compensation During Preventive Suspension; 
(6.)    Common Meaning of Common Words in the Constitution; 
(7.)    Counting Automated Ballots:  Which Rules Apply?; 
(8.)    Upholding Popular Sovereignty Over Strict Legalism;  and
(9.)    The Power of the Supreme Court to Review Internal Acts of Congress.

All of these cases are included in the book because they are important and controversial.   Justice Panganiban had strong, albeit opposing decisions on the issues as well. 

The first issue, the “Death Penalty Law”, is one of the longest in the selection and it involved the case of Leo Echegaray who was sentenced to Death through lethal injection.  This is a celebrated case that even found the Supreme Court severely criticized by the two opposing blocks.  In the end the Supreme Court ruled that the law on the re-imposition of the death penalty was Constitutional.  Justice Panganiban, however, did not think so.  He believed that it was unconstitutional since the law creating it did not strictly follow the mandate of the Constitution.  The Author, in his opposition maintains that the law did not define “heinous crimes” and “compelling reason” as worded in the Constitution.  The words of the Constitution require, for the re-imposition of the Death Penalty, that the crimes be heinous and that there be compelling reasons for such re-imposition.  For failure of the law to define this, the presumption should be against the State.  Justice Panganiban further argues that the 1987 Constitution deleted capital punishment from the statute books, contrary to the majority belief that the said Constitution merely “suspended” the imposition of the capital punishment.  These words and their meanings are crucial in deciding on the Constitutionality of the Law re-imposing the Death Penalty.

            The chapters on “Warrantless Arrests and Seizures” and the “Effect of a Void Warrant of Arrest on Jurisdiction Over the Accused”, Justice Panganiban posits the argument that the protection of the accused must be strictly applied.  He points out that all Constitutional rights of the accused must be followed.  Failure to do this should be construed strictly against the State.  The State in implementing its criminal laws should not break the Constitution and the laws in the process.  The end does not justify the means.

            Justice Panganiban also includes a chapter on “Invoking the National Interest in a Labor Dispute”.  He cites this as an example of a case wherein Justices of the Supreme Court, no matter how convinced they are in a certain matter, have the ability to humble themselves and change their positions once the other Justices clearly prove that they are wrong.  In this instance, a case arose regarding a Labor Dispute wherein Justice Panganiban wrote a Dissent but the Court ended up signing a unanimous decision since the Ponente was later on convinced that Justice Panganiban was actually correct. 

            In “Civil Servants’ Right to Compensation During Preventive Suspension”, Justice Panganiban writes of the battle regarding the issue of whether or not a government employee who was preventively suspended should be given backwages.  He argued that such government employee should be given backwages.  Justice Panganiban believed that if backwages are not given to them then this would convert the preventive suspension into a penalty in itself.  The majority of the Justices decided otherwise.  Justice Panganiban then, could only express his hope that one day soon the Court will reverse Itself and change the doctrine that was established in this case.

            The chapters on “Counting Automated Ballots” and “Upholding Popular Sovereignty” are lengthy discussions where Justice Panganiban presented his disagreement with the majority decision affirming the Commission on Election’s act of ordering the manual counting of the votes in Sulu.  This is upon the complaint by some parties that the automated counting machines were counting erroneously.  Justice Panganiban argued that it was unlawful since the law ordering the use of Automated Counting Machines in the 1998 elections in the ARMM did not vest in the Comelec the authority to count manually if there are questions on the accuracy of such machines.  The Majority of the Justices believed otherwise.  They believed that the Comelec did not act in excess of its jurisdiction.  Justice Panganiban expressed his dismay at the backwardness of the Philippine electoral system.  He also stressed that the majority’s decision would be a drawback to the modernization efforts in the Philippine system of election.

            In the chapter on the “Supreme Court’s Power to Review Internal Acts of Congress:, Justice Panganiban wrote the ponencia.  This is a case where Justice Panganiban wrote for the majority but there were several opinions from the other Justices.  It was held that the Supreme Court has the power, under the Constitution, to review the internal acts of the Congress if it constituted grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of discretion.  Indeed this is an exception to the doctrine of separation of powers of the three co-equal branches of the government. 

            Thus, in these chapters Justice Panganiban exhibited his independence of mind and his skills in writing.  He showed that he could write in a detached unaffected manner but he can be otherwise when the situation calls for it.

            In general, the book has been written with the intellect and writing skills of a seasoned jurist.  It is informative and comprehensive as it could be used to review students of the law in the different aspects of the Constitution and the laws.  I still maintain however, that there is a sense of awkwardness due to the division of the book.  The First part could have been developed as an independent book in itself.  Or, Justice Panganiban could even have simply changed the title if he wants to stick to the title that he chose.
            I hope that more books of the same nature would be printed by the Supreme Court Press and by other seasoned members of the Bench and the Bar through different printing houses.  
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