Judiciary should alleviate poverty—Artemio Panganiban


Posted at May 19 2008 10:02 AM | Updated as of May 19 2008 06:02 PM


Courts must contribute to the achievement or nurturance of prosperity.


Safeguarding the liberty of our people is the traditional forte of the judiciary. The history of the world shows a long and arduous road to freedom.

While the safeguarding of liberty is a traditional and fairly common task for the judiciary, the nurturing of prosperity may not be too familiar to the courts. Some jurisdictions may even take the view that the judiciary need not exert conscious thought and effort to nurture progress.

Whatever the status of a country’s economic progress, courts must contribute to the achievement or nurturance of prosperity; or, at the very least, to the alleviation of poverty, disease and disability. Important world events impel me to advocate a necessary — nay, indispensable — nexus between political liberty and economic prosperity.

First. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948, has emerged as the fundamental law of human rights. The UDHR recognizes the entitlement of the common people to liberty and prosperity.

In the Philippines, our 1987 Constitution commands 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..."

Second. Another impetus to my twin advocacies pertains to developments in the private sector. More and more people around the world are realizing the need to fight poverty and deprivation and are pooling enormous resources and talents to combat this common menace.


For starters, Time magazine’s "Persons of the Year" for 2005 — the world’s richest multi-billionaire couple, Bill and Melinda Gates — staged their own campaign for vaccinations and public health care. Their target: to save 700,000 lives.

Billionaire investment guru Warren Buffett has joined their crusade with a mind-boggling $30 billion donation of blue-chip Berkshire Hathaway stocks to the Gates Foundation.

Last September 2006, billionaire-financier George Soros announced that he was contributing $50 million to the Millenium Villages Project. This nongovernmental initiative seeks to show that closely focused development projects can alleviate severe poverty within a few years.

Even the famed Nobel Peace Foundation has veered its lenses to poverty alleviation, as it awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Bangladeshi Muhammad Yunus on October 14, 2006. He and his Grameen Bank had pioneered micro credit and proved that the poor’s misfortunes could be transformed by helping them become self-employed. Over 6.6 million impoverished Bangladeshis have availed themselves of micro loans.

Philanthropic endeavors in Asia have likewise brought back hope to the homeless, the blind, the poor, and the neglected. In 2006, six exceptional Asians and one exemplary organization were granted the Ramon Magsaysay Awards — Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize. One of the awardees, the Gawad Kalinga Community Development Foundation has been largely instrumental in building private mass housing projects for slum dwellers in the Philippines.

Well-functioning judicial system

Third. Still another factor behind the call for both liberty and prosperity is the growing consensus among international developmental institutions that a stable judiciary and a firmly established rule-of-law system are necessary means to achieve liberty and prosperity.

Institutions, like the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the World Bank (WB), and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have realized that poverty alleviation and economic growth cannot be attained, unless there is "a well-functioning judicial system [that] enables the State to regulate the economy and empower private individuals to contribute to economic development by confidently engaging in business, investments and other transactions."

This stance explains why the UNDP is passionate about broadening the poor’s access to justice; why the WB wants "an effective and efficient judicial system that protects citizens from the abuses of government and safeguards the rights of the poor"; and why the ADB desires "to enhance the effectiveness and the accountability of the judiciary."

The rule of law

Now, it is not enough that the goals espoused are laudable. It is equally important that the means employed to reach them is equally dependable. So, liberty and prosperity as goals must be attained through the rule of law. The rule of law reigns when a country is governed according to the constitution and the laws enacted by representatives chosen democratically by the people, not pursuant to the wiles and whims of the rulers.

Under the rule of law, the policies and actions of the governors are transparent, predictable and stable. The elected officials are accountable to the people, politically through periodic elections. Appointive high officials on the other hand are accountable through the process of impeachment.

Both the elected and the appointed are criminally and administratively answerable through courts of justice that are independent and competent. Elections are conducted peacefully, freely and honestly thereby insuring that the true will of the majority prevails.

The rule of law makes development stable and sustainable over the long term, because it is the guarantee against the temporary tempest of political storms and partisan wrangling. The rule of law warrants long term equality of opportunity and respect for humanity, regardless of race, color or creed.

The Canadian good life

In Canada, this aspiration for the good life; the good life of liberty and prosperity under the rule of law was captured by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau in his advocacy of "the just society." It is a vision that Canadians embrace, a vision that Canadians want to share with the world.

But what does "just society" mean? According to Chief Justice McLachlin in her address upon receiving her honorary doctorate from the Ateneo de Manila University, it means, "a society governed by the rule of law and built on the values of democracy, equality and liberty. It means a society in which all can participate, where all can pursue a dream, where all enjoy basic liberties of expression, association and movement. It means a society where everyone, regardless of race, creed or ethnic background, has a place."

Beyond Canada, there is a teeming world of people, there is a sea of humanity seeking the same blessings of a just society, aspiring for the same dream to enjoy the basic freedoms of expression, association and movement and to live in a nation of liberty and prosperity under the rule of law.

The peoples of the Philippines and the world are aflame with gratitude and praise for Canada because Canadians want to share the blessings of their just society with the rest of mankind through the Canadian International Development Agency.


These are excerpts from the speech of the former Supreme Court chief justice during the May 8 meeting of the Canadian International Development Agency in Manila.