HE NEVER became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, but history will remember retired Senior Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio for his unquestioned integrity, his towering intellect and fierce independence and his uncompromising patriotism.
In October 2006, Justice Carpio, in a historic moment, demonstrated his judicial independence when as ponente of the people’s initiative case (Lambino vs. Comelec), he struck down as unconstitutional the people’s initiative that would have prolonged President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s stay in power. Carpio rebuked the Arroyo administration for foisting in the public a “gigantic fraud” in gathering the dubious signatures to support the people’s initiative.
The supreme irony was that Carpio was President Arroyo’s first appointee to the Court. But unlike other Supreme Court appointees who show their misplaced eternal gratitude to the appointing power, Carpio showed to the people that his loyalty is not to the President, but to the Constitution and to the Republic. Thus, by a slim 8-7 vote, Carpio saved the country’s democracy in its hour of maximum peril.
Justice Carpio who retired last Oct. 26, served for 18 years in the Supreme Court, the second longest in the history of the Court. He had at least four chances to be Chief Justice but was bypassed four times. The first was on May 17, 2010 upon the retirement of Chief Justice Reynato Puno. The second was on May 29, 2012 when Chief Justice Renato Corona was impeached by the House and ousted by the Senate. The third was after Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s removal on May 11, 2018 through quo warranto proceedings. The fourth came after Chief Justice Teresita de Castro retired on Oct. 10, 2018, but President Duterte chose Lucas Bersamin, the third most senior justice.
With erudition and moral courage, Carpio dissented against the hero’s burial of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the acquittal of his benefactor former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, for plunder, the grant of bail to Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, and lastly, his dissent together with Justice Benjamin Caguioa, on the Presidential Electoral Tribunal’s (PET) resolution to dilly-dally the dismissal of the Marcos protest against Vice President Leni Robredo, in gross violation of Rule 65 of the PET.
The nation owes Justice Carpio an eternal debt for his uncompromising advocacy to protect the Philippine territorial and maritime sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea. He debunked China’s 9-dash line argument which rests its claim on the entire South China Sea, saying that ancient maps did not show any 9-dash line in the long history of China, and that it started only in 1947.
I am certain that even if Justice Antonio Carpio is no longer in the Supreme Court, he will continue to serve his country with dedication especially on the issue of our territorial and maritime sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea. He will not mind even if the Duterte regime will continue to downplay our legal victory that upholds our sovereignty, knowing that he is on the right side of history. (By Democrito C. Barcenas)