Gregorio Perfecto (November 28 1891 – August 17 1949) was a Filipino journalist, politician and jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines from 1945 to 1949. A controversial figure who was described as an “apostle of liberal causes”, Perfecto was notable for his libertarian views, his colorful writing style, and the frequency of his dissenting opinions while on the Supreme Court.
Impeachment proceedings were initiated against Perfecto in Congress for converting his office into living quarters, though he had done so with the authorization of Chief Justice Manuel Moran on account of his physical disability. Perfecto charged that the attempts at impeachment, which were ultimately unsuccessful, were politically motivated.
Perfecto's separate opinions give a clearer indication of his jurisprudential philosophy. His firm libertarian views were fully expressed in several dissents. In Raquiza v. Bradford, 75 Phil. 50 (1945), he voted to grant habeas corpus to three Filipinos detained by the United States military as Japanese spies, despite a proclamation from General Douglas MacArthur ordering the indefinite detention of Filipinos who collaborated with the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. In Moncado v. People's Court, 80 Phil. 1 (1948), the majority refused to adopt the exclusionary rule as a consequence of an illegal search or seizure. Perfecto wrote in dissent: “May the government profit from an illegality, an unconstitutional act, or even a crime to serve its aims, including the loftiest? May justice be administered by making use of the fruits of a lawless action?” In In re Subido, 81 Phil 517 (1948), the majority had found a newspaper editor guilty of contempt for prematurely but correctly reporting that the Court had voted to bar foreigners from acquiring agricultural lands in the Philippines in Krivenko v. Director of Lands, 79 Phil. 461. In his dissent, Perfecto admitted that he was the editor's source for the report, but defended his action by observing that in the several months after the vote, before the decision was finally released, the issue had been widely debated in the media, and a rush had begun to complete the transfer of lands to foreigners. Perfecto also defended the editor, whom he said had performed a public service but was being punished for publishing the truth, and asserted that press freedom was a constitutional right. Dissenting in Dizon v. Commanding General, 81 Phil. 286 (1948), Perfecto argued that the grant of extra-territorial jurisdiction to the United States government over criminal offenses committed within American military bases established through the 1947 RP-US Military Bases Agreement was unconstitutional, since the Constitution granted such jurisdiction only to Philippine courts. Perfecto criticized what he perceived as the servility of the Philippine government to the United States. “This Supreme Court has the power to stop the rampage of constitutional breaches in which other agencies of our government are indulging in a servile attitude of complaisance to former masters who are bent on keeping in their hands the strings, the chains, and the whip of unquestioned command. Our oath of office compels us to exercise that power. We do not entertain much respect for the Soviet satellites in Eastern and Central Europe. Shall we allow ourselves to go down in history as a mere American satellite?” Perfecto was not hesitant in insisting upon judicial review over acts of the executive or legislative branches of government, even against the defense that the issues raised were political questions. In Mabanag v. Lopez Vito, 78 Phil. 1 (1947), Perfecto dissented after the majority declined to examine whether the requisite votes in the House and Senate were obtained in the passage of an amendment to the Constitution allowing American citizens the right to use and develop natural resources in the Philippines. In Avelino v. Cuenco, 83 Phil. 17 (1949) Perfecto again dissented when the majority refused to rule on the validity of the election of Mariano Cuenco as acting Senate President. Perfecto opined that while the questions raised were political in nature, they were “justiciable because they involve the enforcement of legal precepts, such as the provisions of the Constitution and of the rules of the Senate.”
Among some of Perfecto's more memorable passages are:
The present is liable to confusion. Our minds are subject to determinate and indeterminate ideological pressures. Very often man walks in the darkness of a blind alley obeying the pullings and pushings of hidden and unhidden forces, or the arcane predeterminations of the genes of human chromosomes.
Man is easily deceived into committing blunders or led into the most absurd aberrations. The mysterious genes which keep uninterrupted the chain of heredity, while permitting the transmission of the best qualities and characteristics, seems to lack the power of checking and staving off the tendencies of atavism. In the moral ctetology, either kind of characteristics and qualities may be originated and developed… To set two moral standards, a strict one for private individuals and another vitiated with laxity for the government, is to throw society into the abyss of legal ataxia. Anarchy and chaos will become inevitable. Such a double standard will necessarily be nomoctonous.
It is useless to panegyrize democracy as the best political system ever conceived, when once put into practice it is sabotaged by the double-dealing of the men on whose shoulders weighs the responsibility of making it a success. A sham democracy is a fertile breeding ground for any doxy that may offer the allurement of a promissory land, where the masses will enjoy better conditions of life.
Shortly before his death, Perfecto took the highly unusual step of filing in his behalf a petition with the Supreme Court arguing that the salaries of judges and justices were exempted from income taxes by the Constitution. The case was decided in his favor after his death, though Justice Roman Ozaeta, in dissent, expressed that “[i]t is indeed embarrassing that this case was initiated by a member of this Court upon which devolves the duty to decide it finally.”
Several years after his death, many of the decisions Perfecto dissented from were overturned by the Supreme Court, most notably Moncado v. People's Court and Mabanag v. Lopez Vito.