“We shall be judged by history…not by what we want to do and can’t, but by what we ought to do and don’t.”
Cecilia Muñoz-Palma was associate justice of the Supreme Court when she spoke these words in a speech on International Law Day. It was the third year of President Marcos’ martial law regime, and despite being herself a Marcos appointee to the high court (in 1973) she was pleading for the return of the rule of law. It was an astoundingly brave stance, implying that Filipinos needed to resist the dictatorship despite their fear of it. The audience gave her a five-minute standing ovation. (But a senior justice called her “ingrata” – which made her proud.)
Under Marcos, magistrates sitting in the country’s highest tribunal had been turned into docile justifiers of his rule. Not Muñoz-Palma. She declared: “My oath of office is an oath of loyalty to the Constitution, to justice and the people and is not an oath of fealty to the appointing power.”
When opposition leader Jose W. Diokno petitioned the court to order his release from military custody – having been detained without charges for more than two years – the other justices wanted to turn him down; she dissented. Diokno was released even before the decision was made public.
When Benigno Aquino Jr. asked to be tried before a civilian court, the other justices agreed with Marcos that he should face a military tribunal; Muñoz-Palma dissented. She was thinking of the effect such a majority ruling would have on the rest of the citizenry: “There rose before my eyes,” she explained, “this gruesome specter of one, a hundred, a thousand civilian Filipinos being dragged by the mighty arms of the military before its own created and manned tribunals…for offenses, real or imaginary….”
After retiring from the Supreme Court in 1978 and desiring to continue serving the country, she sought election to the Batasang Pambansa that same year, representing Quezon City.
When Marcos was forced to call for a snap election in 1985, Muñoz-Palma played an important role in unifying the various opposition groups behind the candidacy of Corazon Aquino. Appointed by the new president to be a member of the 1987 Constitution, and elected by the delegates to be the chairman, she fulfilled her task with integrity, foresight and statesmanship.
Cecilia Muñoz-Palma died in 2006 at the age of 92.
BORN : November 22, 1913 in Bauan, Batangas
DIED : January 2, 2006 in Quezon City
PARENTS : Pedro Muñoz and Emilia Arreglado
SPOUSE/CHILDREN : Rodolfo Palma / 3
EDUCATION : Elementary: St. Bridget Academy, Batangas, Batangas
Secondary: St. Scholastica’s College, Manila
College: University of the Philippines
Postgraduate: Yale University, USA
 The Mirror of My Soul: selected decisions, opinions, speeches and writings by Cecilia Muñoz-Palma, Supreme Court Printing service, Manila, 2001.
 100 Women of the Philippines: Celebrating Filipino Womanhood in the New Millennium by Joy Buensalido and Abe Florendo, Buensalido and Associates, Makati City, 1999.