A Filipino above all

(written in 2005)

“Florentino P. Feliciano is a towering scholar in international law.”

So begins Michael Reisman’s essay A Judge’s Judge: Justice Florentino P. Feliciano’s Philosophy of the Judicial Function. In a profession where verbal precision is a virtue, the label placed on Justice Feliciano is laserlike in its application. In the inherently difficult field of public international law, Feliciano stood out. In the incredible complexity of international economic law, it is his intellectual stamp that permeates.

In Cambridge where geniuses abound, his arrival for a lecture on WTO jurisprudence gave everybody cause for excitement. In a place where Jennings, Higgins, Crawford, and Hawking mingle casually among students, he was heralded. And he is a fellow Filipino.

I once asked a question regarding the relationship of sovereignty and WTO rules during a talk he was presiding. He gave, on the spot, an analysis on the nature of sovereignty of utter precision and sophisticated nuance that is so sadly lacking in present day legal discussions.

International economic law, of which the WTO is its main engine, requires analysis of a depth and accuracy almost beyond the reach of most other branches of law and it is Justice Feliciano’s contributions that can be considered as the primary framework for its present existence.

He was born in 1928, graduating in law from the University of the Philippines, later earning from Yale his Masteral and Doctorate Degrees. As a private practitioner, he worked on corporate law, intellectual property rights, banking, insurance services, shipping, telecommunications, and international commercial arbitration.

His work in the ICSID is highly respected, as well as his work with the International Chamber of Commerce, Asian Development Bank Administrative Tribunal, and the World Bank Administrative Tribunal.

He taught in UP and at Yale, co-authoring (while in the latter) several writings with Myres McDougal. He also became a member of the Institut de Droit International and lectured at The Hague Academy of International Law. This is on top of his many scholarly published works on international law.

Justice Feliciano then joined the Supreme Court, serving as Associate Justice from 1986-1995. He would also chair the commission investigating the Oakwood mutiny.

However, it is his six year stint as member or Chair of the Appellate Body of the WTO that he would be most remembered.

From that post, he would pen the most significant decisions to date from that body, from the oft-quoted Shrimp-Turtle case (relating to trade, the environment, and State sovereignty), the US Foreign Sales Corporation tax case (which resulted in the biggest ever WTO permitted retaliation valued at US$4 billion), and a ruling on duties of imported steel which allowed the filing of amicus curiae briefs by NGOs and private individuals (other than WTO State members).

His attitude and work philosophy also serves as a useful guide for any aspiring lawyer, specially for any lawyer wishing to work on international economic law.

As related by Riesman, Justice Feliciano gave four characteristics required of a judge: humility, learnedness, sensitivity to social values in the law, and personal morality and integrity.

These characteristics, however, are applicable for any lawyer and the first is something truly necessary in today’s globally competitive legal practice.

Humility was described not only as the willingness to look all sides of the issue but also as “a clear understanding not only of his own personal limitations but also of the limitations of professional competence and of the judicial process itself … [coming to] realize that he has neither the commission nor the competence to solve all the problems of the nation and that there are other ‘workers in the vineyard’”.

Considering the multidisciplinary nature of international economic law, such words elegantly serve as a reminder of the demands of the field.

It is a sign of the level of reverence given to Justice Feliciano that a book, entitled “Law in the Service of Human Dignity: Essays in Honour of Florentino Feliciano”, was recently released (by who else but Cambridge?).

The book is a collection of essays from noted academics, international jurists, and respected international law practitioners. The collection contains “insights regarding the jurisprudence of world trade law, the changing landscape of investment arbitration, and other vital topics in international adjudication … [and will] be of special interest to World Trade Organization analysts as the contributors include six current or former members, as well as several leading trade law commentators.”

Among the authors are Michael Reisman, Rosalyn Higgins (of the International Court of Justice), James Bacchus, John Jackson (one of the acknowledged fathers of international economic law), and Mitsuo Matsushita.

Thankfully, a Filipino, Leo Palma of the WTO Law Advisory Centre, was among those invited to write and he contributed an essay on the participation of developing countries in WTO dispute settlement.

In a highly intricate and complex field, Justice Feliciano serves as an inspiring reminder of where clarity of thought, precision, attention to detail, and dedication can bring the Filipino.