Speech of Mar Roxas
for the Philippine Bar Association
Law Day Dinner 2015
Intercontinental Manila, Makati
September 23, 2015

Thank you very much. Thank you very, very much to Joey Tenefrancia for your very very kind and gracious introduction, Joey. I’m very humbled by it, and I thank you. Thank you for that, Joey Tenefrancia. [Applause]

To our newly inducted president, President Rodel Cruz; to our outgoing president Rico de Guzman, I think you will all agree with me that the last hour or so, Rico has become so visibly relieved [laughter] and Rodel becomes so visibly burdened. Nonetheless, President Rodel, at least, presidente ka na. [Laughter and applause]

To the leadership of the Philippine Bar Association including of course our past president and emcee, Attorney Antonio Velicaria; to our first vice president, Atty. Jose Luis Agcaoili; to Atty. Fina dela Cuesta Tantuico, the Chairman of the Committee on Legal Education and Lawyers Rights and our emcee; Atty. Rico Domingo our third Vice President. I didn’t know there were so many vice presidents. [Laughter and applause] Possibly, the most important person, our treasurer, Attorney Rachelle Aileen Santos, let’s give her a big round of applause [applause and cheers]. You know, Rachelle, I was just having a chat here with Rodel and I said you know, “Wow! My gosh,” because they were saying that it was quite full and that how the coffers of the PBA would be increased by all of these. So, I naturally asked how much is the cover? The investment banker in me said 1,500 times 30 tables… [laughter] You know, there must be some portion for the guest of honor and speaker. There must have been some contribution to the crowd here this evening. [Laughter]

To all of the former presidents of the Philippine Bar Association… I notice Mr. Tony Baranda who is not a lawyer—I don’t know him to be a lawyer. Maybe he needs a lot of lawyers, [laughter] that’s why he’s sitting among the presidents, certainly causes a lot of headaches for other lawyers.

To all of the other notables; fellow workers in the government; distinguished personalities in the legal profession; friends, ladies and gentlemen:

Good evening and thank you very, very much for inviting me here in your Law Day celebration. Maraming salamat po. [Applause]

About eight and a half years ago was the last time that we had a chance to chat and also it was in this very hall. At that time, Boy Las, was turning it over to Boy Feria, over here, and I was a Senator at that time and I was here not being a lawyer talking to you about the Cheaper Medicines Law, which was something that I was advocating at that time. So here we are nearly nine years later, as I look up into the audience, I see so many familiar faces and friends, and men and women who have served in our government. And I see that some of the hair is less lush, [laughter] some of the middles are much more rotund, and perhaps, many more of you are happy that we tackled and supported the passage of the Cheaper Medicines Law then now being the beneficiaries of the lower priced maintenance medicines that we are all enjoying today. [Laughter and applause]

Just for the record, I looked it up, Lipitor, many of you know Lipitor, [laughter] 101 pesos per tablet at that time, now, 48 pesos per tablet. [Applause] And to Boy Feria who was asking me, because he was the incoming president at that time, “Diyan sa Cheaper Medicines, kasama ba ang Viagra?” [Laughter] Boy, hindi kasama noon; hindi pa rin kasama ngayon. [Laughter]

In our last conversation, I was also very aware that, in front of seasoned lawyers, I could only claim to have a layman’s understanding of the law. Despite the many years and the vast array of experiences that I have gone through since then, that is an awareness that I carry with me to this day. Nevertheless, I hold the same beliefs: I believe in a society such as ours where the haves coexist with the have-nots, the law is there so that the have-nots are not trampled upon, and in fact may stand on equal footing, with the haves. In my mind, that is the essence of what the late President Ramon Magsaysay meant when he said, “Those who have less in life should have more in law.” Every society that has progressed, from the antiquities to the middle ages to the present, has been characterized by the rule of law. The law is an articulation of our collective willingness to live as a society; it expresses our collective hopes and dreams for ourselves, our families, communities, and we as a people. Law defines us—after all, who are we if not our dreams?

When that law is harnessed for the good of all, the nation thrives; when it is bent to a single will, the nation suffers. This is especially important to remember, as tonight, we commemorate a grim anniversary 43 years ago. Tonight, almost exactly at this time, Mr. Marcos went on national television to announce that Martial Law had been imposed. My father was awakened very early that morning, as word came in that Ninoy Aquino, Pepe Diokno, and many others were being rounded up. At one point, Dad rushed to Camp Crame to try to do something for those being arrested. It would be a long night, and many would not live to see the dawn of our freedom’s restoration.

We all know how members of the Philippine Bar Association kept the fight for justice alive even in the darkest days of the dictatorship. Ka Jovy Salonga, who was among the original incorporators of the PBA, and Lorenzo Tañada, who served as your president, readily come to mind as embodiments of what the PBA stands for. Both are towering figures in the field of law; and by the way, they are also leading lights of another, perhaps lesser known organization called the Liberal Party. [Applause]

Mr. Marcos had used every legal trick in the book, as well as many other tricks beyond the pale of the law, to replace democracy with dictatorship. Today, sufficient mechanisms are in place to ensure that never again will we have to suffer through strongman rule; but more importantly, is the recognition that the People Power is now a valid expression of people’s will against an unjust government.

Not many realize that within the next six years, the next president of our country will appoint 11 or maybe 12 of the 15 justices of the Supreme Court. Of the incumbent court, we can say that only two will represent a continuity with succeeding courts. Unfamiliarity—or worse, hostility to the painstaking gains and reforms of the past five years and decades—will have a direct, potentially colossal impact not only on the justice system, but on the nation as a whole. This might not caught the attention of the vast majority; but surely, you lawyers know the primordial importance of who gets to appoint the next set of justices, as this will have the potential significance of affecting the national landscape.

Will the next president rely on old, transactionalist paradigms in choosing his or her appointees? Will he or she treat this as an exercise in weaving a personal, legal safety net? Or will probity, integrity, and competence be the most important criteria in deciding who will be performing the crucial task of being a Justice of the Supreme Court?

These questions are of utmost significance, especially given the many strategic and primordial legal issues that are on the horizon. For example: While our Constitution is very clear on the issue of nuclear weapons, it is silent on the use of nuclear energy—a question that, may one day land on the desks of our Supreme Court Justices given how global warming is overhauling our weather patterns.

Another example: The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement allows foreign entities to preposition logistics within our shores; some quarters are raising concerns whether such an agreement can be entered into by the Executive, without ratification by the Senate. Again, given the assertiveness of our neighbor to the northwest, this issue must be decided by men and women who will interpret the law not just from a theoretical perspective but from the highest and broadest national interest. Certainly men and women—like Manny Bautista, Greg Catapang, Jolo Alano over there—who have worn the uniform and have been in our frontlines defending our people and our nation and our democracy, see this issue more differently than how theorists may look upon this issue.

To cite another example: The SALN. It is a powerful tool to keep corruption in check. Unfortunately, its power is diluted by a cumbersome, sometimes overly secretive process and bureaucracy. Will we get a set of justices committed enough to transparency and amenable to publishing SALNs automatically? And what about bank secrecy? Any proposal to waive bank secrecy for public officials will certainly encounter resistance from some quarters, and inevitably reach the Supreme Court, whose members themselves may be affected by such a decision.

A whole-of-government reform agenda will also unavoidably touch on our judicial system’s issues with pace. By some estimates, several trillion pesos of economic assets are in limbo, and therefore unproductive, because it is mired in the long processes of our courts:  Long-litigated disputes in the corporate world, or as regards land, inheritance and other such battles, tie up time and money from across the broad spectrum of society. Parenthetically, land disputes in Mindanao have also bred conflict that has bled across the generations, among and between Christians, Muslims, and Lumads all claiming their ancestral domains.

The benefits that can arise from liberating the resources tied up in an insufficient, inefficient, and interminable system only add a collective dimension to the personal miseries that many of our citizens have to endure. In fact, not only is “Justice delayed, justice denied”—justice delayed is also development denied. A recent study by the European Commission cites that reforms to increase efficiency in the justice system can enhance entrepreneurial activity and foreign direct investment, thereby widening the horizon of opportunity for our countrymen. Judicial reform, therefore, defines the difference between “Just tiis,” or a people waiting and withstanding the lack of progress, and genuine justice.

To this end, the administration, with the DILG—recently, my last posting— playing an integral role, has begun initiatives such as the eCourts and eSubpoena systems to expedite legal processes. But the Executive can only do so much. Beyond such interventions, it is imperative that we apply a holistic approach: One that involves systems, people, political will, and the different branches of government working towards a collective goal.

As you have no doubt seen, the PNoy administration has gone deep into every challenge to come up with solutions that exemplify the governance style I believe in is crucial for our progress: Nimble, creative, efficient, transparent, and professional, with all agencies locking in together to attack a problem systematically. Most importantly, over the past five years or so, the Daang Matuwid’s good governance and accountability drive—catching corrupt fish of all sizes across the bureaucracy—has brought about a renewed sense of fairness and justice to the national psyche. It is this predictability of outcomes—that criminals will be held accountable, and those who play by the rules will move forward, not through power or money, but through hard work and innovation—that has created an environment characterized by stability and optimism.

The question that confronts us now is one that has often been repeated by PNoy: Do we build on the achievements of the present, or do we try to reinvent the wheel? Do we go from strength to strength, or do we once again kick the can down the road, perpetually mired in a cycle of botched momentum and unexecuted plans? If the challenges that the nation faces were a law case, imagine a situation wherein you have to constantly change partners, litigators, your premises, and your very strategy, direction, and vision—wouldn’t that be problematic, especially when we’ve already been getting into a steady productive groove? Imagine, on the other hand, the effectiveness and efficiency of a firm in which, as senior partners retire, there are tried and tested replacements to fill their shoes. Let me correct myself, senior partners don’t retire, they just become “of counsel.” [Laughter and applause]

You have heard PNoy say that 2016 will be a referendum on Daang Matuwid. Collectively, we take pride in the many achievements of the past five years. We have no illusions; we are not claiming that everything’s perfect, and there still exists a vast horizon of opportunities for refinement, not only to complete plans and programs, but also to take them to the next level and develop them for the next generation. Despite this, no reasonable person can deny that the nation has gained steady headway over the course of PNoy’s administration.

Not since 1986 has an administration put forward the entirety of its record for the people’s judgment by asking them: Here’s what we’ve done; you’ve seen how we do things, you’ve seen how we’ve applied depth and integrity to the challenges that confront us. And do we go forward?

This is an act of political daring we have never seen under our present 5th Republic: An administration that dares to subject itself to the verdict of the people.It dares to trust that our people can distinguish between the principles that unite a group, and the personalities that attach themselves to whatever issues may be in vogue. It dares to trust that our people can distinguish between policies and programs and their different phases—from planning, to execution, to evaluation. It dares our people to realize that nation-building is not an overnight affair; it dares to dream big—beyond the next elections, and onward to the next generation.

If we are to achieve bigger dreams, then the next administration will have to dare even more. But, if we choose wisely, and maintain or even gain partners who will apply the ideals of Daang Matuwid to other branches of government, then certainly, our daring can only yield the fulfillment of our collective aspirations.

Tonight, ladies and gentlemen of the PBA, I talked about depth in a context that many of you have dedicated your entire lives to. Depth—as against the populist pandering we have gotten used to—is what the Daang Matuwid coalition represents, and we trust that the people will effectively discern whether we will continue on this path of effective national leadership, onward to an even more just, even more inclusive Philippines.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Philippine Bar Association, I thank you for your commitment and dedication to the rule of law. It is what makes us a nation. It is the basis for our future.

Congratulations! Magandang gabi po sa ating lahat at maraming salamat. [Applause]