Wash Sycip, Chito Tagle and the FLP (With Due Respect Column)

By: Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, FLP

Column printed in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 15, 2017


Unknown to many, the business icon Washington SyCip, who passed on last week at 96, cherished a bond with the relatively young (59) archbishop of Manila, Luis Antonio Cardinal “Chito” Tagle.

A mystery and a blessing. Wash whispered to me more than once, “Cardinal Chito Tagle is the most brilliant Catholic I have ever met. He is an intellectual giant, but beyond that, he is humble, prayerful and compassionate. He truly loves and cares for the poor and underprivileged. I fervently hope he will be the next pope, and before that happens, I would become a Catholic so I can affectionately greet him in the Vatican.”

Replying to my SMS advising him of the demise of Wash, the prelate (who was then in Spain) texted back: “I’ll pray for him and his family… Mr. Wash was my ‘quiet’ and ‘hidden’ friend. It remains a mystery but a blessing why he showed me such fondness and respect.”

I do not know if Wash actually converted to Catholicism. But whether he did or not, may I invite my readers, whether Catholic or not, to join me in praying for his eternal repose?

Distant star. During my over 11 years in the Supreme Court and my 35 years as a humble practicing lawyer prior to that, I did not have the privilege of meeting Wash. But I viewed him as a distant star.

From afar, I admired his outstanding career as a certified public accountant, an educator (he cofounded the AIM, the Asian Institute of Management where my wife taught for 36 years till her retirement in 2009), and a much-sought-after guru of the major conglomerates in the country.

However, after I retired from the Court in December 2006, I had the good fortune of forging a close personal friendship with him. We met very often as fellow independent directors/advisers of PLDT, Metro Pacific Investments Corp., First Philippine Holdings Corp., Jollibee Foods Corp., Asian Terminals Inc., and Metropolitan Bank, and as fellow trustees/advisers of the Tan Yan Kee Foundation, Metrobank Foundation, Johann Strauss Society and Foundation for Liberty and Prosperity (FLP).

In between the meetings and activities of these corporations and foundations, we privately percolated ideas on the overriding principles and values to make democracy flourish and on the enduring practices and pursuits to equitably spread wealth and prosperity to our people.

Ice of Wash. He was a man of many-splendored talents and quests. I have space to cite only three: integrity, competence and education. I call them the “Ice of Wash.”

He practiced integrity, and not merely in terms of honesty in dealing with others; it meant intellectual decency and a deep sense of personal honor that transcended public acclaim or recognition, as well as the moral courage to stand for what is right and proper, even when no one else did.

Moreover, to him integrity included active fairness, a sense of giving back more than what is received. He expected his scholars (thousands of them) to give back what was granted them after they finished their studies and became professionals so as to multiply the benefits to new entrants.

He demanded competence and excellence from himself and from all who worked for him and for the organizations he represented. In spite of his advanced age, occasional illness, jet lag, sleeplessness and disabilities, he diligently and promptly attended all meetings of the companies he served.

To him there were no short cuts, no mid-merits, no half-bakes, no compromise with mediocrity, no tolerance for patchiness. He wanted and expected only the best: in Filipino, “Hindi puede ang puede na.”

Finally, he had a consuming passion for education. His range was broad and extensive—from the Synergeia Foundation (of which he was “chairman for life”) in basic schooling to the AIM in graduate work. He viewed education as the poor’s passage to prosperity.

I am glad and grateful that though minor compared to AIM and Synergeia, our endeavors in the FLP merited the same passion from Wash. Though not a lawyer, he actively helped in launching the FLP’s three educational projects: 15 professorial chairs in as many law schools, 21 full scholarships (tuition, books and monthly stipend) for law students, and a unique dissertation contest also for law students.