I thank the organizers (especially Atty. Carlos P. Medina Jr., chairman of the Philippine Organizing Committee) and the sponsors of the Global Alliance of Justice Education (GAJE) for holding its weeklong 5th Worldwide Conference in my country, the Philippines. I am even more grateful that you have invited this rather ancient and retired jurist to keynote your gathering. I welcome this refreshing opportunity to meet with the young leaders, professionals and students of the world, and to set the tone of this novel conference that aims to reinvent new paradigms of justice and education.
The stunning victory of Barack Obama in winning the presidency of the United States of America is an inspiration for the whole world. It signals a major milestone in the battle for human dignity and equality that started with the adoption of the Magna Charta by the British; carried on by all independence-loving peoples everywhere — to the French Revolution, and then to America where the ideals of human freedom were immortalized in the Bill of Rights of the American Constitution and pushed to the limits by the great President Abraham Lincoln.
The Bill of Rights was refined by the US Supreme Court in landmark decisions like Brown vs Board of Education, Terry vs Ohio, Miranda vs Arizona, Mapp vs Ohio, New York Times vs Sullivan, Gideon vs Wainright and Baker vs Carr, cases that spelled out famous phrases like “separate is not equal,” “read him his rights,” and “fruits of the poisonous tree.”
The war on slavery, discrimination, inequality, poverty, disability and disease is now carried on all over the world, all the time, by all freedom-loving people. In preparing this keynote address, I accessed your website and read the excellent reports on your two latest gatherings, the International Conference on the Future of Legal Education held in Atlanta, Georgia on February 20 to 23, 2008 and the 4th GAGE Conference held in Cordoba, Argentina on November 27 to December 2, 2006.
I noted the extensive reach of your war against injustice waged in terms, among others, of mediating domestic violence in Nicaragua, setting up community legal center models in Australia, undertaking public interest litigation in India and Hungary, and maintaining International Bridges to Justice programs in Switzerland, China and parts of Africa. All these may not be as earth shaking as the French Revolution or the Obama victory, but they certainly show the awareness and determination of the peoples of the world to render justice to the least of humankind.
Battle for Human
Rights in the Philippines
As a Filipino, let me say that the historic fight for civil liberties and human rights has long ago reach our own shores and became our battle cry in our own revolutions against foreign dominance and in the making of our Constitutions from the first one crafted over a hundred years ago in 1899 (the Malolos Constitution) to the latest one approved by our people in 1987. In all these basic laws, our fervent devotion to liberty had been enshrined in our Bill of Rights that went beyond that of the Americans’ because we codified therein the Miranda rights that were laid down by the US cases I already mentioned.
To complement our Bill of Rights and to actively promote social justice as well as to alleviate inequality and inequity, our Constitution has created an independent Commission on Human Rights, among other reasons, “to investigate all form of human rights violations,” “to recommend to Congress effective measures to promote human rights” and “to monitor the Philippine government’s compliance with international treaty obligations on human rights.” Being an independent constitutional agency, the Commission cannot be abolished or defanged by the political branches of the state.
In addition to our expanded Bill of Rights and to the creation of our Commission on Human Rights, our Constitution contains a Declaration of State Policies that, among others, mandate the State “to promote a just and dynamic social order that will ensure the prosperity and independence of the nation and free the people from poverty through policies that provide adequate social services, promote full employment, a rising standard of living, and an improved quality of life for all.” It further proclaims that “the State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees respect for human rights.”
Moreover, the “State recognizes the role of women in nation building, and shall ensure the fundamental equality before the law of women and men…and affirms labor as a primary social and economic force.” Ever mindful of minorities, our Constitution “recognizes and promotes the rights of indigenous cultural communities within the framework of national unity and development.”
In various other parts of our Constitution, our nation’s commitments to freedom, social justice and development are spelled out emphatically. I will no longer quote them here because they are so numerous and will make this speech unduly burdensome.
Measures to Implement
Suffice it to say that to give substance to these constitutional commitments, our Congress has passed various social justice measures that “give more law to those who have less in life.” Our labor statutes are some of the most protective in the world. For instance, regular workers cannot be dismissed from their jobs unless their employer can prove (1) that there is a just cause for their dismissal and (2) that due process was observed, specifically, that the employees were duly notified of the cause of their dismissal and given the chance to explain their side.
You will also be pleased to note that our Constitution has given our judiciary both an extraordinary duty and an extraordinary power to promote social justice. Thus, it imposes on the courts the duty to strike down grave abuse of discretion on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the government. In the fulfillment of this duty, our Supreme Court has voided orders and actions of our President and other officials that impinge the political, social and economic rights of our people.
For instance, two years ago, the Court struck down Presidential Proclamation 1017 that declared a state of national emergency and that suppressed the freedoms of speech and of the press in the country. In the same manner, earlier this year, it struck down, for being gravely abusive, the Memorandum of Agreement between the Philippines government and a rebel group in the southern part of the country, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
So too, our Constitution gave our Supreme Court the quasi-legislative power to “promulgate rules concerning the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights.” To implement this power, the Court recently promulgated on September 25, 2007 the Writ of Amparo under which the relatives or friends of persons who disappear or whose rights to life, liberty or security are threatened or violated especially by the military or by the police or by a private individual or entity may petition the courts to require the government or private entity or individual not only to produce the body of the victim but also to explain the circumstances of the violation.
After taking up in broad strokes the Philippine commitments to human rights and social welfare, let me now turn to the immediate matter at hand, the GAJE’s new front in this never-ending search for novel and effective methods to promote justice through education. Earlier I mentioned that I have accessed your website, and then, I outlined very briefly my own impression of the reaches of your last two international conferences in Atlanta, Georgia and in Cordoba, Argentina.
To set the tone of your present conference in my country, may now I propose two projects for your kind attention and consideration; first, a macro project involving the International Criminal Court; and second, a more specific and doable program of “Public Education on the Rule of Law” or PERLAS.
The International Criminal Court or ICC was founded on July 17, 1998 when 120 states attending the Rome Diplomatic Conference signed what is now commonly referred to as the Rome Statute. The Statute became effective on July 1, 2002 when 60 of the 120 signatory-states ratified it.
It sanctions violations of what is known as International Humanitarian Law during armed conflicts and International Human Rights during peace time, thereby guaranteeing humane treatments of combatants, and the strict observance of fundamental civil, political and social rights of civilians during both war and peace.
The Rome Statute mandated the ICC to fight the impunity of dictators, presidents and other heads of state who could not be sued in their home countries due to their national immunity from suit, or due to the inability or fear of prosecutors to investigate and prosecute them, for the following categories of crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.
The ICC is a court of last resort, available only for exceptional cases when national judicial systems have failed to bring justice because they are unwilling or unable to investigate and prosecute those who bear the responsibility for the most serious of crimes of concern to the international community.
The ICC is markedly different from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) of the United Nations. While in general the ICJ adjudicates conflicts only amongst states as parties, the ICC has jurisdiction over individuals; and while the ICJ acquires jurisdiction over the parties only with their consent, the ICC has jurisdiction over individual offenders even without their express agreement.
Prior the creation of the ICC, there have been created international war crimes courts like the Nuremberg Tribunal, to try German war criminals, and the Tokyo Tribunal, to try Japanese war criminals as well as ad-hoc courts organized to handle crimes arising from specific conflicts, like the International Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, and those for Sierra Leone, East Timor, Cambodia and Lebanon. However, these bodies were ad-hoc in nature. They had no permanent situs and no firm financial and administrative support.
There are still many states, including the Philippines and the United States, which have not ratified or acceded to the Rome Statute. The participants attending this 5th GAJE conference may want to urge these non-members to join the ICC so that their citizens may avail of the remedies guaranteed by the Rome Statute to protect their fundamental rights and to bring to justice the violators thereof.
on the Rule of Law
Let me now take up PERLAS, the acronym for Public Education on the Rule of Law. In many places in the world, we still have rulers or leaders who believe and practice authoritarianism in various forms and contexts. Although at times shrouded in democratic veneers, their governments are shaped not by laws made by the people or by their duly elected representatives. These regimes are defined more by the whims and wiles of the rulers, more than by the consent and wishes of the governed. Dictators and autocrats sometimes use the colors of democracy and the rule of law, when in actual fact they really govern by decrees and rule by law.
On the opposite extreme, are regimes where mobs and charlatans abuse democratic processes and defy constitutions and duly constituted authorities. Governments are rendered inutile or are destabilized by armed partisans, pressure groups, parochial interests, money politics, drug power, and corrupt practices that do not respect and many times overturn legitimate police authority.
Many people in these regimes thrive and prosper not because they follow the law, but precisely because they are able to circumvent, bend, misuse and abuse the law. A simple example are motorists who are able to beat red lights and drive around with impunity because they are able to bribe the police or, worse, use their connection with the town mayor as their shield from arrest. There are many variations of this simple example, the point being that some people are able to abuse the processes of democracy to get what they do not deserve.
The solution to both these extremes of authoritarianism on one hand and lawlessness on the other is the rule of law. No one should be so powerful, so moneyed or so influential as to be above the law. A democracy cannot thrive, liberty cannot flourish and prosperity cannot prevail unless people know and follow the rule of law.
With this background, PERLAS – which in Filipino and Spanish means a pearl of great price – was conceived and born. The idea is to teach the basics of democracy, the rule of law, justice and peace at the basic schools as separate subjects or as topics imbedded in existing curricula. This project was conceived a few years ago by a group of lawyers who called themselves “Libertas,” which stands for Lawyers League for Liberty. They were able to secure the active support of the Supreme Court of the Philippines and the Department of Education, with funding assistance from the World Bank, USAid and the Asia Foundation.
The project has already evolved from the conceptual framework to implementation stage. In fact, workbooks and teaching exemplars have already been developed and printed, ready for use in our elementary and high schools all over the Philippines. All that is needed is to actually use them in the classrooms. You, my dear participants, may want to take up this project. And to help you evaluate the program, I have requested the Asia Foundation to distribute the Teaching Exemplars of PERLAS. They have been included as part of your conference kits.
Let me now conclude this keynote with a brief summary. During the last fifteen minutes, I discussed some enduring mantras of good governance like democracy, human rights, social justice, freedom, liberty, bill of rights, constitution, rule of law and due process. Mix these mantras with the cyber-age concepts of globalization and high tech education, and we come face to face with new paradigms of justice like mediation in lieu of litigation, public interest law centers, international bridges to justice, independent commissions on human rights, writs of amparo and if I may be allowed to stress, the International Criminal Court and PERLAS, the pearl of a great price.
The Global Alliance for Justice Education is itself an avant-garde movement started in the new century, founded to combine age-old principles of governance with space age concepts to form new paradigms of justice. I must congratulate all of you for pioneering in this renewed search to find new cures for injustice and inequities.
It has been my great honor to address you. Maraming salamat po.