When President Marcos appointed his friend Claudio Teehankee to the Supreme Court in 1968, some critics warned that he may have done this in anticipation of the latter’s cooperation in the event of a presidential election contest the following year.
But Teehankee proved to be a devoted defender of the rule of law, courageously upholding constitutional democracy against the dictatorial regime imposed in 1972.
He affirmed the right of citizens, even under martial law, to be tried by civilian courts rather than military tribunals. He challenged the validity of various amendments to the 1973 Constitution that extended Marcos’ term and gave him even more powers. He defended civilian supremacy over the military, and the right of citizens to liberty and due process, against the abuse of power through such instruments as the Presidential Detention Action.
These were dissenting opinions that failed to sway the majority of the justices, and when vacancies occurred at the top Marcos showed his displeasure by not appointing Teehankee to be chief justice, twice, despite his seniority in the court.
With the declaration of her victory over the dictator in the February 1986 snap election, President Corazon Aquino asked Teehankee to swear her into office, which he did in the morning of February 25 at the Club Filipino. She appointed him chief justice shortly after.
During the short period that he headed the court, Teehankee ordered a retrial of the Aquino-Galman murder case, declaring that “the Supreme Court cannot permit a sham trial and verdict and travesty of justice to stand unrectified.” He retired in 1988 upon reaching the age of 70.
Before serving in government – he was named justice undersecretary in 1966, secretary of justice in 1968, and associate justice of the Supreme Court in 1979 – Teehankee was a distinguished lawyer and civil libertarian. He co-founded the Nationalist Citizens’ Party with senators Claro M. Recto and Lorenzo Tañada.
Teehankee is remembered as a competent and honest administrator at the justice department, and mostly as a courageous justice of the Supreme Court, especially during martial law.
No one, least of all Marcos, expected him to defy tyranny and cast doubt on the regime’s validity and to question the justness of its cause. His erudite dissenting opinions stripped away the shroud of legality that Marcos sought to drape over his abuses. He wrote bold dissents against the majority position, and spoke at public forums on the importance of upholding the rule of law, and the independence of the judiciary.
Under his leadership, he fought to keep the judiciary worthy of the people’s respect and confidence.
Teehankee died of lung cancer in 1989 while serving as Philippine ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations.
PARENTS Jose Teehankee and Julia Ong
SPOUSE / CHILDREN Pilar D. Javier / 9
Elementary / Secondary: Ateneo de Manila
College: Ateneo de Manila