By: retired Chief Justice ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN
*Remarks of retired Chief Justice ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN during the Award Ceremony of the Foundation for Liberty and Prosperity held on July 28, 2023 at the Stephen Fuller Hall of the Asian Institute of Management, Makati City.*
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good evening.
On behalf of the Foundation for Liberty and Prosperity, let me profusely and sincerely thank Mr. Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo for his keynote address, for chairing the Board of Judges of our Legal Scholarship Program and for his untiring effort to help us attain our avowed mission, activities, and projects. Let me also thank our partners and funders, the Tan Yan Kee Foundation represented by Kyle Tan, the brilliant grandson of Dr. Lucio C. Tan who is abroad now; the Metro Pacific Investments Corporation represented by its Director and Corporate Secretary, Atty. Ricardo Pilares III, in lieu of MPIC Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan who is attending a vital function of Maynilad Water Services, Inc., an MPIC subsidiary; and the Ayala Corporation represented by the esteemed Fernando Zobel de Ayala; he would have been joined by his brother, the charismatic Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala if he were not abroad. Let me also acknowledge the eminent Alfred Ty and his lovely wife Cherry Ty, representing the Metrobank Foundation, FLP’s partner in its Professorial Chairs Program; and the learned Msgr. Gerry Santos who graciously delivered the invocation. I consider Monsi Gerry my ‘Nak and he calls me ‘Tay and my late wife, ‘Nay.
So, too, I express my everlasting appreciation to the boards of judges, especially the three chairs. I am referring to the talented and amiable Justice Amy C. Lazaro-Javier; to the multi-awarded retired Governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and newly elected Chairman of SM Investments Corporation, the only publicly-listed company in our country that has attained a market capitalization exceeding one trillion – repeat, trillion – pesos, and – I am proud to say – a treasured member of the FLP Board of Trustees, the Honorable Amando M. Tetangco Jr; and, as I already said, Chief Justice Gesmundo.
Let me also say, maraming salamat po to our special guests. especially Atty. Felipe L. Gozon, Chairman and CEO of GMA Network. When I was still an incumbent in the Supreme Court, I invited Henry, who was, and still is, one of the best law practitioners of our country, to join the Court, but he preferred to stay as the GMA boss and made it unquestionably the largest TV-radio conglomerate in the Philippines. I am honored to say that he invited me to sit as an Independent Director of GMA for 16 years now since I graduated from the highest court of the land in 2006. I see also World Bank executives Dandan Chen and Dave Llorito who were handpicked to attend our Awards Ceremony by their big boss Ndiame Diop, who is abroad. I am pleased to say that over the last one dozen years, I have sat as a member of the World Bank Advisory Council.
I also invited the irrepressible Injap Sia, the Chairman and CEO of Double Dragon Properties Corporation and MerryMart Consumer Corporation. Though he declined attendance due to a prior commitment, he instead sent an unsolicited donation of P888,000! Palakpakan po natin si Injap.
I likewise thank my dear friend, Marixi Rufino Prieto, whose family owns the Philippine Daily Inquirer, for donating the three-fourths page colored FLP ad that appeared in her newspaper today. Of course, I also acknowledge the attendance of some of my incumbent and retired colleagues in the Supreme Court and the other courts of our nation.
Now, let me officially felicitate our 21 new scholars,10 dissertation winners and 5 ESMEL fellows. I will no longer name you because you have already been introduced one by one.
Let me just share with you and our guests some bits of wisdom, borne of my experience, study, and observation during my almost 87 years of existence on earth. When you were in grade school and high school, you aimed to finish college with Latin honors, or as valedictorians, or as most outstanding students. Let me add that you also wanted and succeeded in securing FLP scholarships or fellowships or won the top prizes in the FLP dissertation writing contest. Now, you desire to top bar exams. I certainly expect you to do so and thereby keep the tradition started by our first batch of scholars led by our poster boy, Atty. Sean James Borja, Ateneo’s valedictorian and numero uno in the 2018 bar exam.
Later, you will want to practice the legal profession, or to become top corporate executives, or to be rich as private entrepreneurs. And thereafter, to marry the girl or boy of your dreams, to have children, to raise them as good citizens and to guide them as they climb the education ladder as you had done. Well, modesty aside, I have been there and done that. I tell you it’s wonderful.
Indeed, life is a strange interplay of light and shadows, victories and defeats, successes and failures, exultations and frustrations. Amid these zigzags, we must keep on trying, keep on aiming, keep on fighting, keep on aspiring higher and higher. We never say “no more,” never say “never again.” We always remember that when a door closes, a much larger window opens.
Like you, I have had successes and defeats, oppressions and suppressions, wins and losses. After graduating with honors from high school, I was granted a scholarship at UP that I could not enjoy – to my utter frustration – because the door to excellent education was closed by the inability of my impoverished family to afford the then measly 15 centavo ride to Diliman, Quezon City. Thus, I enrolled at nearby FEU where most fortunately, a large window was opened when I met my life-long mentor, law dean Jovito R. Salonga. With the inspiration of another FEU mentor, Dr. Alejandro R. Roces, I became an active student leader, was elected the youngest President of the FEU Central Student Organization, founded and headed the National Union of Students, graduated cum laude and copped the 6th place in the bar exams. Though granted a full scholarship including board and lodging to pursue graduate studies at Yale University, I could not enter the door to higher education in that ivy league school because the US Embassy refused me a visa due to my student activism. However, with the closing of this door, a wider window of hard knock education opened.
To cut the long story short, let me move fast forward. I never expected President Fidel V. Ramos – who electorally defeated my mentor, Dr. Salonga – to appoint me as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. Neither did I expect President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to name me Chief Justice. Nonetheless, while in the Court, I buried myself in work as a virtual hermit shunning social interaction, even large family events. I produced over 1,200 fully signed decisions during my over 11 years as a magistrate, while writing one book a year and chairing the most number of Supreme Court committees, thereby humbly earning, though unworthy, a unanimous Resolution of my colleagues, naming me the “The Renaissance Jurist of the 21st Century,” and citing me, without my participation and vote, as “the Court’s most prolific writer, bar none.” The Court’s unanimous Resolution also lauded my term, again though unworthy, for “demonstrating (my) core judicial philosophy of safeguarding the liberty and nurturing the prosperity of our people, thereby imbedding this philosophy in the nation’s legal lore…”
My retirement was the signal that I should rest and enjoy my ancient age in the comfort of my home, travelling the world with my family and friends, tilling a modest farm in Tagaytay, dancing the waltz, boogie and swing with my lovely wife (who, sadly, passed away three months ago), and playing my favorite games of tennis and golf.
However, I was bored with an idyllic life. At age 75, five years after my retirement, I was inspired by the musical “Ageless Passion” composed by National Artist Ryan Cayabyab, to transform my philosophy from being merely an imbedded “legal lore” into a practical and throbbing reality, outside the intellectual realm of lawyers into the world of hard knocks and grinding poverty by organizing the FLP. Initially, I seeded the Foundation with two million pesos, but thereafter, the many companies and foundations where I became a director or adviser of, contributed more than P50 million to enable FLP to purchase its 700 square-meter head office in a condominium in Salcedo Village, Makati. Moreover, they donated another P50 million (and counting) to sponsor the continuing educational projects we are celebrating tonight.
I was, and still am, buoyed up by their financial support, and the unparalleled help of prominent friends who agreed to sit in our board of trustees and/or to help in operating and managing the FLP.
And tonight, during this momentous Awards Ceremony, allow me to take up very briefly what I call the two “ultimate projects” of the Foundation. They are, first, the building of a Center for Liberty and Prosperity in Metro Manila (and later, a much larger one in or around the new Manila International Airport in Bulacan) where, in partnership with the Supreme Court, an interactive, immersive, and AI-powered Museum for Liberty and Prosperity will be housed. It will be interactive and immersive in the sense that the visitor will not merely be viewing historical relics but will be immersing into them with the use of modern technology. As an example, visitors can be transported or immersed inside a virtual Session Hall of the Supreme Court where they can see and hear oral arguments, ask oral questions, and give stimulating comments.
It will be AI-powered in the sense that visitors can speak with robots mimicking justices, filled with info about their decisions, speeches, and bio data. As an example, visitors can ask or interact with justice-bots about their opinions, legal philosophy, and career. The plans for the Center and the Museum are being finalized by an FLP Task Force headed by the esteemed newly retired Senior Justice and FLP Trustee Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe.
The second ultimate project is the establishment of a multi-billion peso “Prosperity Fund” – to be created with tax-free donations of the local business community and international developmental agencies – to nurture, grow and help make profitable and bankable micro, small and medium enterprises or MSMEs. The Fund will be nonprofit, but financially viable and sustainable. We believe in unleashing the entrepreneurial ingenuity of our people as the key to eliminating extreme poverty in our country. The plans for this project are being worked out by an FLP Task Force headed by the respected FLP Trustee Amando M. Tetangco Jr.
To put our money where our mouth is, I donated to FLP last year a major asset of my family – a residential lot in Paseo de Magallanes in Makati, worth over 100 million pesos – to be liquified at the appropriate time. The cash proceeds will be used as seed money for these two ultimate projects. Moreover, even without seeing the final plans of the Task Forces, several friends have already contributed 23 million pesos to support them. The FLP dedicates the first project to the talented and the second to the poor.
By fulfilling our vow to help the poor help themselves through viable and sustainable private enterprises, we do not merely perform a civic duty to satisfy our human empathy but more so, we obey our Lord’s command, “Whatever you do for the least of my brethren, you do unto me.” (Matt 25:40) Indeed, these programs will help “the least, the lost and the last.”
I am determined that before I pass from this world to the Great Beyond, these two precious projects will become realities as our humble legacies to show that our philosophy is not merely an “imbedded legal lore” but a real-life practicality that can demonstrate the intertwining relationship between law and economics, and between freedom and food. Freedom must be of the mind and of the stomach. And food must be of the intellect and of the gut. Liberty and prosperity must always be together. One is useless without the other. Maraming salamat po.