A changing of guards at Asean Law

The declaration of the Malaysian PM came as a refreshing reassurance that, though appointed by the previous prime minister defeated by PM Anwar, CJ Maimun would continue to serve her term without unnecessary interference from parliament.

Artemio V. Panganiban

Artemio V. Panganiban

Philippine Daily Inquirer


February 5, 2024

MANILA – In Malacañang on Feb. 6, President Marcos will induct the new officers of the Asean Law Association (ALA) Philippine Chapter (ALA Philippines) led by CJ Alexander G. Gesmundo as chair. Along with the other ALA Chapters in the region, they could have been inducted during the 14th ALA General Assembly held in Kuala Lumpur on Oct. 17-22, 2023. However, CJ Gesmundo requested me to carry on as ALA Philippines chair until the end of 2023 to give him more time to follow through with the Supreme Court’s “Strategic Plan for Judicial Innovations, 2022-2027.”

IN KUALA LUMPUR (KL), THE MALAYSIAN CJ and chair of ALA Malaysia, The Right Honorable Tun Tengku Maimun binti Tuan Mat, was unanimously elected president of the regional ALA for three years. Significantly, Chief Justice Maimun is the first woman to head the Malaysian judiciary, ALA Malaysia, and the regional ALA.

In his keynote during the ALA General Assembly, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim stressed the importance of the rule of law and assured ALA he would protect the independence of the judiciary. This assurance was met with thunderous applause because in parliamentary systems like Malaysia’s, the parliament is the paramount repository of sovereignty, and the judiciary is viewed as an inferior branch of government.

In contrast, in our tripartite system, the judiciary—particularly the Supreme Court—is the constitutional equal of the President and the Congress. In fact, our Supreme Court is often regarded as “the Most Powerful Court in the World” because it is the only tribunal mandated by the country’s Constitution with the duty, not just the power, to nullify acts of Congress and of the President that are done “with grave abuse of discretion.”

THE DECLARATION OF THE MALAYSIAN PM came as a refreshing reassurance that, though appointed by the previous prime minister defeated by PM Anwar, CJ Maimun would continue to serve her term without unnecessary interference from parliament. As a firm believer in judicial independence and integrity under the rule of law, I was, and still am, personally delighted by PM Anwar who whispered to me—during my short private chat with him as he greeted each delegation head—that he has many Filipino friends.

The ALA General Assembly accepted the Philippine offer to host the next meeting of the ALA Governing Council later this year. The venue will be in New Clark City to be contracted by our Supreme Court, which will concurrently host the Conference of Asean Chief Justices or CACJ.

Other ALA Philippines officers are lawyer Regina Geraldez (vice chair), Judge Ralph Jerome Salvador (secretary), lawyer Christine Monderin (assistant secretary), J Marian Ivy Reyes-Fajardo (treasurer), lawyer Ela Sangalang (assistant treasurer), lawyer Ricardo C. Bernabe Jr. (deputy secretary general), Maria Teresa Sison-Go (membership chair) and yours truly (chairman emeritus).

ALA PHILIPPINES WAS FOUNDED ON JUNE 25, 1981, when the Securities and Exchange Commission certified its articles of incorporation. Among its founders are lawyer (later senator) Edgardo J. Angara (its first chair), lawyer Ysidro Perez, J Antonio Barredo, J (later CJ) Felix Makasiar, Justice Minister Estelito Mendoza, J Manuel Lazaro, CJ Roberto Concepcion, professor (later J) Flerida Ruth Romero, J Felix Antonio, and lawyer (later CJ) Marcelo Fernan. Among the living original members—aside from Mendoza—are Avelino V. Cruz (who now chairs the Asean Law Institute), Teresita Cruz-Sison, Alonzo Ancheta, and yours truly.

Amihan, easterlies to bring overcast skies in parts of PH Amihan, easterlies to bring overcast skies in parts of PH

ALA Philippines invited the four original Asean member-countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand) to form the core of ALA. Later, the five other countries (Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam) joined to complete the Asean-10 in ALA. The ALA presidency is traditionally rotated among them. Singapore CJ Sundaresh Menon, a close friend, turned over the ALA presidency to CJ Maimun in KL.

Back in 2018, during an ALA Governing Council meeting, the Vietnamese delegation aggressively proposed a resolution supporting the Arbitral Award in the South China Sea. However, aside from ALA Philippines, the other delegations were lukewarm. Sensing a defeat, the Vietnamese withdrew the proposal with my tacit agreement as ALA Philippines head. I did not want to risk a sure defeat given that many of the 10 Asean countries especially those bordering China had close commercial, diplomatic, and aid relations with the second-largest economy on the planet.

Apart from fostering commercial and economic ties with Vietnam, the recent visit of President Marcos to that state will fortify this commonality of interest of the two countries to uphold our Arbitral Award and to strengthen their advocacy of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or Unclos. Of course, after 2018, several Asean countries, notably Indonesia, have valiantly asserted their own claims against China’s 10-dash line. Nonetheless, I believe—regretfully—that ALA or even its mother organization, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, will not find any consensus in dealing with China and the South China Sea.

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