However, your president was quite insistent. He reminded me that he and his firm have been the auditors of our small group of companies for about 40 years already, since 1968. So, I could not refuse.
I decided to speak on the role of certified public accountants in general; and of your organization, the Association of Certified Public Accountants in Public Practice in particular, in safeguarding the liberty and nurturing the prosperity of our people.
“Liberty and Prosperity under the Rule of Law.” This was my guiding philosophy during my more than eleven years in the Supreme Court from 1995 to 2006; ten years as associate justice and one year as Chief Justice. Now, it is still my favorite clarion call.
The Imperatives of
Liberty and Prosperity
Let me bring your attention to December 21, 2005. On that day, I assumed office as Chief Justice of the Philippines. Immediately, I declared my vow to lead a judiciary characterized by four Ins: integrity, independence, industry and intelligence; and one that is morally courageous to stand its ground against the onslaughts of influence, interference, and indifference.
Verily, I envisioned a judiciary that is impervious to the plague of “ships” — kinship, relationship, friendship and fellowship. And one that battled what I call the ACID problems of (1) limited access to justice by the poor, (2) corruption, (3) incompetence and (4) delay in the delivery of quality judgments. In reforming the judiciary, I focused on these four ACID problems that corroded justice in our country.
The Supreme Court is mandated to watch over not only the entire judiciary, but also the Philippine bar — the vineyard from which our judges take root. Accordingly, I looked for legal professionals who courageously upheld truth and justice above everything else, above even their own and their clients’ interests and causes. I wanted to see the emergence of competent and ethical lawyers who were willing and able to stand for their convictions against all odds; to carry on in spite of seemingly insurmountable opposition; and to be beacons for the weak, the oppressed and the marginalized.
This vision of a reformed judiciary and a revitalized legal profession was directed towards two loftier goals of safeguarding the liberty and nurturing the prosperity of our people under the rule of law.
The Role of Courts as
the Great Equalizers
It is easy to see the role of courts as the great equalizers between the citizens and the government. It has become usual for people to seek refuge in the halls of justice when conflicts arise. This need becomes more urgent when the conflict is between individual freedoms — whether civil, political or economic1 — on the one hand; and, on the other, the awesome powers of the State and governmental institutions.
By civil liberties I mean, in particular, the inviolability of our persons and our homes from arbitrary searches and seizures, those guaranteeing our freedoms of abode and travel, and the so-called Miranda rights of persons accused of crimes. The battle for civil liberties is in fact a never-ending saga of trials and triumphs for the judiciary and for our people. And so will such struggles continue to dot the pages of our nation’s history.
Ironically, how much lawyers know about protecting civil liberties seems to be negatively correlated with how little they have thus far devoted to nurturing the prosperity of our people. This is the reality that persists despite the Mandates of the 1987 Constitution: (1) to alleviate the plight of the marginalized and the poor; (2) to promote a just and dynamic social order that will ensure the prosperity and independence of the nation and free the people from poverty; and (3) to achieve a more equitable distribution of opportunities, income and wealth. The constitutional mandate to achieve the goal of prosperity was given to all three departments of government: the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. In my book Leveling the Playing Field, I underscored the balancing role of the judiciary in our government. I said that while the Supreme Court was keenly aware of the continuing need for “eternal vigilance” in protecting our hard-won political freedoms and civil rights, it also recognized its increasingly important role in economic development.
Let me quote directly from that book: “[The Court] knows that integrity, stability and predictability in judicial decisions are needed to achieve the nation’s goal of prosperity and progress. Moreover, it joins our policymakers in their desire to attract investments both local and foreign; to elevate the gross national product, the gross international reserves; the per capita income of our people, the stock market index and other growth indicators.”
That is to say, “The Supreme Court safeguards not only food but also freedom; not only jobs but also justice; not only indulgences but also integrity; not only development but also democracy; not only prosperity but also peace.”
I am truly convinced that the prosperity of our people requires as much nurturing in the present century as that accorded to liberty in the past. To be relevant, courts must be constantly attuned to the needs of the present and the vagaries of the future, so that they can respond in a timely and prudent manner to the people’s ever-expanding well-being. How courts cope with the stark realities of poverty has become the litmus test for the fulfillment of their mandate to weigh the scales of justice in favor of the downtrodden and the neglected.
Amid this paradigm shift in the role of the courts in economic development are welcome moves to redefine poverty as a “deprivation of essential assets and opportunities to which every human is entitled.” Under this new definition, the right to prosperity is elevated to the level of a universal human right. Hence, it definitely needs attention, cultivation and protection by the courts — nay, by everyone.
In short, the battle for liberty and prosperity is in the final analysis a battle for the poor and the marginalized, the forgotten and the deprived. Indeed, freedom and political equality are meaningless to people who wallow in grinding poverty, debilitating disease and inexplicable hunger. Human dignity requires both liberty and prosperity, both democracy and development.
ACPAPP’s Role in
Liberty and Prosperity
But civil society operates not just in the political arena; most of the time, it operates outside of it. Noteworthy in fact are its contributions to the provision of basic social services; grassroots organization and development; resolution of conflict situations; and various trainings in human rights, gender equality, credit and debt repayment, and about almost everything else in the whole gamut of human activity.
Civil society should likewise be credited for directing attention and channeling resources to the needs of the poor and disadvantaged majority of our society. This all-encompassing role of civil society makes it a necessity in a democracy — as essential to good governance as a robust media and an idealistic student movement.Legal Framework for Participation Like any other entity, civil society exists and operates within the legal framework laid down by our Constitution and our laws. Thus, it enjoys all the rights guaranteed to all persons under the Bill of Rights; among these are the freedoms of speech, association, and assembly; and the right to information on matters of national concern. Owing to the constitutional mandate to ensure the people’s participation at all levels of policymaking, the government is duty-bound to accord civil society an environment suitable to the latter’s viability and buoyancy. For this reason, civil society organizations (CSOs), people’s organizations (POs) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been granted tax exemptions and other benefits — including Official Development Assistance (ODA) funds — for their activities.
The legal limits of the participation of civil society in our nation’s affairs are therefore circumscribed only by the same Constitution and laws that sustain it. Within legal bounds, it may strongly advocate a certain position, but it must at the same time respect the rights enjoyed by other persons — especially with regard to fair comment, privacy and disclosure. It may work actively in human resource organization and mobilization, but it must take care not to overstep the boundaries of legitimate people’s actions and assemblies.
As expressed in the objectives of a particular people’s organization, it must “pursue and protect, within the democratic framework, the [people’s] legitimate and collective interests and aspirations through peaceful and lawful means.”
In fine, civil society must draw the line between, on one side, legitimate protest and active participation in government; and, on the other side, unlawful mass actions, interference and destabilization efforts. One only needs to be reminded that democratic space is healthy for the advancement of both democracy and development, while anarchy is destructive of both liberty and prosperity.Role of ACPAPP and Civil Society
From the foregoing discussion, it is obvious that civil society in general and ACPAPP in particular assist the three great branches of government in their common effort to uplift our people from the plagues of misgovernance, tyranny, poverty and want. Specifically, it can also play a significant role in promoting economic development by supporting judicial initiatives along this line. That support can take various forms.
First, civil society can initiate the judicial process by prosecuting or defending cases and causes that bear upon economic development. As you know, the judiciary cannot act, unless appropriate proceedings are initiated by proper parties. Here, civil society can tap the help of professional lawyers’ groups like the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the Philippine Bar Association, and the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG).Second, civil society should push for the legal empowerment or the use of the law by the poor to exercise more control over their lives. On this point, let me refer to an ADB-commissioned study11 on how legal empowerment contributes to good governance, poverty reduction and other developmental goals.
That study recommended 1) raising awareness of the law and the rights it confers through a mix of informational/educational campaigns and trainings; 2) extending legal assistance, so that the poor can take action to assert their rights or push for the enforcement of judgments; and 3) ensuring participation by the poor or their representatives in local governance structures.
Third, civil society can advocate collective cooperation in solving poverty. Ingenious ways of reducing this problem have recently been aired in the wake of global recognition of the widening gap between the rich the poor. Calls to reduce poverty include proposals to “buy” peace by seeing to it that what would otherwise be allocated to military spending and other concerns are rechanneled towards providing for the “world’s poorest of the poor, whose societies are destabilized by extreme poverty and thereby become havens of unrest, violence, and even global terrorism.”A myriad of other possibilities can be added to the list of areas in which civil society may operate and be involved. For sure, the field of cooperative endeavors, as much as civil society itself, is sprouting and evolving.
ConclusionACPAPP as a microcosm of civil society has a big stake in ensuring the liberty and prosperity of our people. Like you, I realize that the road to attaining the twin objectives of liberty and prosperity may be long and difficult. But with your help and active participation, the vision becomes clearer and our resolve firmer. Please join me in tirelessly searching and fearlessly espousing both jobs and justice, food and freedom, investments and integrity, economics and ethics, development and democracy; in short, Liberty and Prosperity.
Maraming salamat po.
 Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ, elucidated on the current Bill of Rights of our Constitution, as follows:
“It is customary to distinguish three concepts: civil liberties, political freedoms and economic freedoms. x x x
“To civil liberties belong freedom from arbitrary confinement, inviolability of the domicile, freedom from arbitrary searches and seizures, privacy of correspondence, freedom of movement, free exercise of religion and free choices involving family relations.
“Political freedoms include the freedoms involving participation in the political process — freedom of assembly and association, the right to vote, the right of equal access to office, the freedom to participate in the formation of public opinion, and also non-establishment of religion or what is popularly called separation of church and state.
“Economic freedom covers everything that comes under the heading of ‘economic self-determination,’ free pursuit of economic activity; in general, free choice of profession, free competition and free disposal of property.” J. BERNAS, THE INTENT OF THE 1986 CONSTITUTION WRITERS 164 (1995).
 The pro-poor bias of the Constitution is evident in these provisions, among others: Article II (Declaration of Principles and State Polices) “Sec. 9. The State shall 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.”
Article XII (National Economy and Patrimony)
“Sec. 1. The goals of the national economy are a more equitable distribution of opportunities, income, and wealth; a sustained increase in the amount of goods and services produced by the nation for the benefit of the people; and an expanding productivity as the key to raising the quality of life for all, especially the underprivileged. x x x x x x x x x “Sec. 5. The State, subject to the provisions of this Constitution and national development policies and programs, shall protect the rights of indigenous cultural communities to their ancestral lands to ensure their economic, social, and cultural well-being.” x x x x x x x x x
Article III (Bill of Rights)
“Sec. 8. The right of the people, including those employed in the public and private sectors, to forum unions, associations, or societies for purposes not contrary to law shall not be abridged.”
Article XII (National Economy and Patrimony)
“Sec. 15. The Congress shall create an agency to promote the viability and growth of cooperatives as instruments for social justice and economic development.”
Article XIII (Social Justice and Human Rights)
“Sec. 15. The State shall respect the role of the independent people’s organizations to enable the people to pursue and protect, within the democratic framework, their legitimate and collective interests and aspirations through peaceful and lawful means.
“People’s organizations are bona fide associations of citizens with demonstrated capacity to promote the public interest and with identifiable leadership, membership, and structure.”
“Sec. 16. The right of the people and their organizations to effective and reasonable participation at all levels of social, political, and economic decision-making shall not be abridged. The State shall by law facilitate the establishment of adequate consultation mechanisms.”
 Kilosbayan, which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, independent, and ethics-oriented people’s organization. Its purposes, as stated in the Articles of Incorporation, are the following:
“1. To arouse public interest and participation in important questions of public policy, in light of the right of the people to their own governance and on the basis of civilized norms of morality, justice, truth, and ethics.
“2. To get all the available facts on public issues, secure the most informed commentaries thereon, make an independent evaluation, and publicize its stand in order to obtain public support and shape the thinking of decision-makers.
“3. To help transform Filipino culture, including our politics and electoral processes, so that we may have public officials of proven integrity, competence, dedication, and commitment to the national interest, rather than those appointed or elected on account of money politics, utang na loob, pakikisama, kinship, celebrity status, expectations of personal profit, and the like.
“4. To achieve our vision of a society where economic and social progress and the widest distribution of basic social values are attained, to the end that the Philippines may become truly free, democratic, just and progressive.”
 Regional Technical Assistance for the Legal Literacy for Supporting Governance (1999), Manila.
 J. SACHS, END OF POVERTY (2005).