Unfinished business: Carpio to return as Inquirer columnist
MANILA, Philippines — The “best Chief Justice the country never had” may have retired from the Supreme Court but don’t count him out. The nation — and the world — will still read retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio “Tony” Carpio’s “concurring and dissenting” opinions on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) and other issues, this time as a columnist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Carpio, who retired from an illustrious 18-year stint on the high court when he turned 70 on Oct. 26, confirmed that he would resume his column in this paper at a testimonial dinner hosted by the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC) on Tuesday night at Bonifacio Global City’s Manila House in Taguig City.
On a rare occasion when journalists gave tribute to a retired justice, Carpio was hailed as a true statesman, a class act, exemplary Filipino and a patriot, and many were sad about the void he was leaving in the judiciary and the nation’s political life.
But he had a surprise for them.
“Now that I have retired, I will be writing a weekly column in a major national daily newspaper,” Carpio said, drawing applause from the local and foreign journalists.
“In a way, I will only be resuming my affiliation with media since I was writing a weekly column in the same major daily before I joined the court,” he said.
Carpio wrote a column, “Crosscurrents,” in the Inquirer in 2001, when he returned to private law practice after serving as chief legal counsel of President Fidel Ramos in 1997. He will resume writing the column in January.
He will take care of some unfinished business as well.
“At age 70, I plan to spend most of my remaining waking hours defending our sovereign rights in the WPS through the means I know best—through the rule of law, the great equalizer in disputes between a militarily weak country and a nuclear-armed regional superpower,” Carpio said.
He noted that 93 percent of Filipinos wanted to assert the Philippines’ legal victory over China when the United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague upheld its maritime entitlements in the West Philippine Sea, waters within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
Carpio played a key role in that victory.
“I still have to work on President Duterte and the remaining 7 percent,” he said, eliciting laughter from the audience.
Carpio said he did not grant media interviews, opting to be the “quintessential justice who spoke only through his decisions.”
But when he started his West Philippine Sea advocacy, he realized that the press was a “crucial partner in explaining to the Filipino people” why and how they must defend the West Philippine Sea.
It was quite unorthodox for a Supreme Court justice to do that, going on a lecture tour in the country and abroad, but with the full approval of the court and without affecting his work. He had to work doubly hard, though, which made him look forward to retirement.
“I will of course continue my lectures throughout the country and abroad whenever possible until the Filipino people and the world will be on the same page on the WPS,” he said. A “DHO,” or die-hard optimist, he believes the seemingly impossible can be achieved with help from the press.
“I am sure that when our country calls, you will also all be there to defend the WPS using the best weapon at your command—the journalist’s pen, which is mightier than the sword in shaping world opinion,” he said.
Citing a wise man, Carpio said China would only comply with the arbitral ruling in two ways: voluntarily (which does not seem possible) and through pressure from world opinion (which is within the realm of possibilities). China, he said, needs the world to sustain its economic growth.
Shaping world opinion, he said, was tailor-made for journalists. “All you have to do is to tell the historical truth about the South China Sea—truth affirmed by the arbitral ruling that China never owned or controlled the South China Sea throughout its history,” he said.
The testimonial was organized by AIJC chair and CEO Mel Velarde, who purchased the Murillo-Velarde 1734 Map as a “gift to the Filipino people,” which is now being used as Exhibit A against China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea.
The emotional tribute — hosted by Maritess Vitug and Ramon Tuazon — had journalists showering superlatives on Carpio, who somehow never became Chief Justice despite his sterling service.
Florangel Rosario-Braid, AIJC president emerita, hailed Carpio as a true statesman, an exemplary Filipino and a patriot. Inquirer columnists Solita “Winnie” Monsod and John Nery and Ellen Tordesillas of Vera Files and Vergel Santos of Rappler gave testimonials.
Monsod described Carpio as the “last man standing” because of five unequaled qualities: brilliance, independence, principled, standing up for those principles, and having zero backlog. These, she said, were due to Carpio having the “heart of a journalist and the mind of an economist.”
To the list of adjectives for Carpio, Monsod added one more: “Justice Carpio has class. He is a class act.”
Nery noted that national hero Jose Rizal was an exemplar for Carpio “standing guard over our western shores.”
“Like Rizal, Justice Carpio is a sentinel for our age, a true patriot for all time,” Nery said.
Tordesillas cited Carpio as a “good storyteller,” saying his West Philippine Sea lectures were “never the same and always offer[ed] something new.”
She also noted how he became a fact-checker of erroneous claims about the South China Sea by Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Chinese fisheries association.
For his part, Santos expressed the sentiment of many in the room when he said he could never get used to Carpio having retired from the Supreme Court.
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