MANILA - There were no balloons when retired Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Noel Tijam stepped into the tribunal's quadrangle on Monday for his last flag-raising ceremony, but the appreciation for his contribution to the judiciary was unmistakable.
The Supreme Court Program on Awards and Incentives for Service Excellence committee acknowledged Tijam for "dispensing justice without fear or favor," recalling how he was renowned for penning the Court of Appeals resolution with finality in denying former Maguindanao Mayor Andal Ampatuan, Sr.’s petition to be excluded in the charge in the Maguindanao massacre cases.
He would later write the "landmark decision" granting the quo warranto petition that ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno for her failure to submit all the required statements of assets, liabilities and net worth, noted SC Deputy Clerk of Court and chair of the PRAISE committee, Ma. Carina Cunanan.
Tijam, whose decades-long career in the judiciary will be defined by the unprecedented quo warranto decision he wrote, said the recognition was unnecessary.
“You’ve given me lots of recognition and tokens. I do not deserve them. They are for services already paid for,” he told fellow SC justices and employees.
He thanked his staff for their “enthusiasm, creativity, resilience and commitment to our work.”
“I am proud of what we have accomplished together in such a short time,” he said, citing more than a thousand cases he and his staff disposed in his nearly two years in office.
He was all praises for his fellow justices.
“There is no greater honor than being part of this Court… Everyone says you’re all experts in law, but you’re more than just legal luminaries. You are hard workers. Your devotion is not only to the law but to justice. I have seen how, in the en banc, you have worked tirelessly. You are visionaries, concerned at how reforms can be made,” he said.
In his speech on Monday, Tijam made only a vague reference to the quo warranto decision, mentioning only “controversial decisions” he and his staff resolved.
But in his retirement speech before fellow SC magistrates on Friday, he defended the high tribunal’s duty to decide based on the law and not on popular opinion.
“Some may think that it is easy to be right because one needs only to follow one’s innate sense of right and wrong or one’s sense of logic. But a Justice of the Court is not supposed to be ruled by his or her convictions or beliefs; the Court must decide based on what the law is,” he added.
“The Court’s decision to apply and interpret the law as we think it is intended to be appreciated or enforced may not always sit well with members of the public. But it is not the Court’s mandate to be popular. Justices of the Court are not called upon to please. Our authority is tied to, and limited by, the law we are tasked to construe. And if, as unraveled, the law leads us to decide a certain way, it would be a breach of our sworn duty to decide differently and simply succumb to pressure from particular sectors of the society,” he said.
Tijam acknowledged that the past year had been “particularly challenging” for the Court, citing criticisms from within the legal community, some of which he said had some “overtones of impropriety and breach of judicial duty.”
He reminded the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), as the official organization of all Philippine lawyers, of the lawyers’ solemn duty as officers of the court.
“I urge the IBP not to forget that it is an organization that should promote the best interest of the lawyers and the courts. They are not advocates of propagandists of causes but keepers of public faith in the courts’ capacity to render just decisions. They may rightfully express their concerns but should refrain from publicly criticizing decisions, more so from signing and publishing manifestos. Indeed, they should be the first to promote obedience to and respect for the courts,” he said.
“Furthermore, as they speak for the legal community, they must be careful to reflect and represent only what the IBP membership, in its entirety or at least by its majority, intends to make known or advocate for,” he added.
Tijam also lamented criticisms on social media.
“What saddens me is that oftentimes, these opinions are given evidently without those persons having actually read the Court’s decisions,” he said.
He urged the media to read the Court’s decisions in its entirety, and to set aside any prejudice or preconceived notions.
“Only with such open-mindedness can they really be free to form a rational and fair opinion of the court’s judgment,” he said.
“I further ask the public to have faith in the Supreme Court. We have instituted processes and programs that ensure the transparency of our actions, the accountability of our officers and the speedy resolution of cases. We hold sacred the trust you have reposed in us as the final arbiter of legal controversies, and we assure you that every day, in every case, we endeavor to earn and maintain that trust,” he said.
CARANDANG'S FIRST ADDRESS
In the same flag-raising ceremony on Monday, Associate Justice Rosmari Carandang addressed Supreme Court employees for the first time since her appointment in December.
She said is happy and grateful for the “rare and golden opportunity” to serve the country through the judiciary.
“The only way I can repay God and all of you, is to channel all my strength and knowledge into the work that I have to do in the Supreme Court. My work shall be my offering to God, my tithe to Him,” she said.
“I cannot wait to get my hands wet. I am excited in my new role in the judiciary. And I look forward to the new challenges up ahead,” she said.
Eleven justices were present during the flag-raising ceremony, the justices’ first for 2019.
Only 4 were not present: Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin and Associate Justices Marvic Leonen, Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa and Andres Reyes, Jr.