ROBERTO R. CONCEPCION
A staunch defender of civil
liberties and the rule of law, Roberto R. Concepcion was the 11th
chief justice of the Supreme Court. He was born in
After a short stint as a
private law practitioner,
A highly principled man, Justice Conception was uncompromising whenever the integrity of the country or the Supreme Court was challenged. His obsession was to clear the dockets of the courts. He instituted some internal changes in the high tribunal so that its decisions could be promulgated as soon as they were made. For this-not to mention his administrative duties-he often had to work late.
To Justice Concepcion, no man is above the law. He maintained his solute stand in decisions he penned even in cases involving the highest officials in the land, such as President Quirino in complex rebellion cases, People vs. Hernandez (99 Phil. 545); President Magsaysay, in Hebron vs. Reyes (104 Phil. 175); President Macapagal, in Pelaez vs. Auditor General (15 SCRA 589), and Marcos, in Javellana vs. Executive Secretary (505 SCRA 36), which questioned the presidential proclamation of the ratification of the 1973 Constitution.
In 1971 habeas corpus cases, he formulated the cardinal rule which is now enshrined in the 1987 Constitution-that the Presidentís constitutionally conferred power to declare martial law or suspend the writ of the habeas corpus is neither absolute nor qualified but limited and conditional, and that the Supreme Court is empowered to inquire into the sufficiency of the factual basis for such declaration or suspension.
As Chief Justice during the declaration of martial law in 1972, it fell on Conceptionís shoulders to preserve the independence of the Supreme Court against the pressures exerted by the Marcos Administration to use it as an instrument in legitimizing its actions. Marcos has filled the court with justices who were supportive of his decisions, thus making Conceptionís job of maintaining judicial integrity extremely difficult. In his minority decision in Javellana vs. Executive Secretary, Conception attacked the procedure on how the 1973 Constitution was ratified with a mere show of hands during the so-called Peopleís Assemblies and accused the president of violating the Constitution. Conception called on his fellow justice to declare the proclamation of the ratification of the 1973 charter null and void. However, in an extended opinion, Associate Justice Felix Makasiar claimed that an executive proclamation could only be nullified by a two-thirds vote by the court, which Conception failed to muster. Thus, the Supreme Court ruled that there were no longer legal impediments to the enforcement of the Constitution.
The erosion of the
judiciaryís independence and the subordination of the Supreme Court to the
Executive Branch were too much for Justice Conception to take. He resigned from
the Supreme Court 50 days before his retirement age on
After leaving the Supreme
Court, Conception continued to express his commitment to the rule of law by
supporting human rights cause through legal assistance to the poor. He served
from time to time as consultant, adviser, or chairman on the National Committee
on Legal Aid of the Integrated Bar of the
Despite his advanced age
and fragile physical condition, Conception accepted his appointment on
Conception was married to
Dolores Conception, by whom he had four children: Carmencita, Roberto Jr.,
Milagros, and Jesus. He died on