Home of Achievers and Leaders

Address delivered by Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban (ret.) during the reunion of former presidents and other leaders of the Far Eastern University Central Student Organization (FEUCSO) held on Nov. 8, 2007 at the FEUConference Center, FEU Campus, Manila in partial commemoration of the 80th Anniversary of Far Eastern University.

Congratulations to the Far Eastern University on its 80th birthday. Congratulations to Chair Lourdes Reyes Montinola, President Lydia B. Echauz and all admistrative and academic officials, faculty and employees for makingFEU one of the greatest institutions of learning in the world.

And congratulations to its distinguished alumni, especially to the former presidents of the FEU Central Student Organization (FEUCSO) who are gathered here today to pay tribute to their great Alma Mater. “By their fruits, you shall know them,” so says the Good Book. By their products, we shall know the manufacturers; by their children, the parents; and by their alumni, the schools. Indeed, by that standard, FEU flies high.

FEU Hymn: an Exemplar of Faith

The FEU Hymn is so appropriate to quote on this happy occasion, “In thy happy halls, our young hearts saw the light . . . Though far from home, our feet may roam; our love will still be true. Our voices shall unite, to praise thy name anew; we’ll treasure within our hearts the FEU.” And today’s program is witness to the truism heralded by this Anthem: we, the products of FEU may roam the earth in search of fame and fortune, heroism and nationalism, but we will always return to our Alma Mater with the same hearts and minds that were molded and pounded in its foundry, humbly offering our achievements and successes in the world beyond.

Yes, we have all come back to our educational roots to reminisce, to enjoy the memories of our youth, to recall what we have learned at Far Eastern University. The most obvious learning is, of course, our academic studies, evidenced by the diplomas we, in full black robes, received on graduation day. To many of us, these diplomas were used to pass, nay, top government examinations that opened the doors to our professional lives. To some others, they symbolized the basic courses for further education in pedigreed graduate schools. And to most of us, they were the first in our ten thousand steps to our chosen work, professions and businesses.

Transcending Ordinariness

But for all of us who have graced the halls of the FEUCSO, there is something special that we have learned that no school can academically teach. We were sharpened in the battlefield of life, as our leadership skills were honed in our extra-curricular activities. Thus, we transcended the call of ordinariness as we climbed the heights of student leadership. For always, FEUCSO membership, and more so, the FEUCSO presidency meant leadership not only in FEUbut also in the national field. Because of the size, quality and moral ascendancy of our Alma Mater, students from other schools always looked up to the FEU for leadership, vision, dynamism and direction.

I am certain that all of us have our individual stories to tell. And I am sure that we shall be retelling them to one another all through out the day. But let say mine briefly.

Let me be candid that, at the outset, I wanted to enroll at the University of the Philippines where I was offered a scholarship after graduating with honors from Mapa High School. However, due to my family’s extreme poverty, I could not afford the then 15-centavo ride from our house in Cataluna Street in Sampaloc, Manila to the UP campus in Diliman, Quezon City.

My poor but hardworking father – who was a simple government employee at the then Bureau of Lands – convinced me to enroll at nearby FEU for my pre-law studies, with a promise that he would support my studies for law proper at either UP or Ateneo which based their law colleges at Padre Faura Street at the time.

However, upon enrolling at the FEU Institute of Arts and Sciences, I was immediately thrown into the vortex of extra-curricular activities as I was recruited to run and to win as the freshman delegate to the FEUCSO. Because of this, my resentment at my inability to join the school of my choice turned to pure joy as I combined my academic studies with my newfound leadership pursuits. And so I forgot my initial ambition to enter UP and continued on to the FEU Institute of Law where I met the then young and brilliant Dean Jovito R. Salonga, who became my guru since then, up to now.

FEU, UP, Harvard and Yale

As you may know Dean Salonga finished his law degree from UP, his master’s from Harvard, and his doctorate in law from Yale. And so from him, I learned not only FEU education but also UP, Harvard and Yale erudition all combined in one law course. And from him also, I acquired not only academic skills, but also full preparation for a life of ethics, moral ascendancy and integrity.

His greatest teaching, which I hold sacred to this day, can be summed up in one sentence: It is good to have the things that money can buy – like food on the table, clothes in our back, a car and a house for the family – but, first and foremost, we must aspire for the things that money cannot buy, like integrity, dignity, honor, ethics and credibility. He constantly reminded me, in the midst of my extra-curricular activities, that the first duty of a student is academic studies. And so because of him, I had to study hard and to be among the topnotchers in the bar examination.

On the other hand, another young and brilliant FEU personality, the then Arts and Sciences Dean Alejandro R. Roces encouraged me to pursue my student activism, not only in FEU but also in the national arena. Together with Fr. Michael Nolan, the then FEU chaplain, Dean Roces – who later became the country’s youngest secretary of education under President Diosdado Macapagal – prodded me to organize and later head the National Union of Students, which this year, is celebrating its 50th anniversary as the largest and most representative student organization in the country.

True Student Activism

I think that the NUS gave birth to true student activism in the country. Prior to its organization, only the non-sectararian schools participated in national campus life. However, the NUS was able to entice the many elite and cloistered Catholic schools, including Ateneo, UST, La Salle, St. Scholastica’s, St. Theresa’s, Sta. Isabel, Maryknoll (now Miriam) in Metro Manila, University of San Carlos in Cebu, University of San Agustin in Iloilo and St. Louis University in Baguio, to name a few, to join national student activities for the first time in history.

Be it remembered, however, that in the thick of this activism was FEU, the university that led the National Union of Students. In fact, it was in the midst of these student leadership activities that I met the editor of the Scholastican, the student organ of St. Scholastica’s College. She is the sweet and charming Elenita A. Carpio who later became known as Mrs. Leni Carpio Panganiban, the light of my life.

I am proud to say that several other FEUCSO presidents, including Evergisto Macatulad (of the Institute of Accounts), Augusto Kimpo (of the Institute of Arts and Sciences) and Ramon Sto. Domingo (of the Institute of Law) followed this leadership trend and also became NUS presidents.

Looking back over the last forty seven years after obtaining my Bachelor of Laws degree in 1960, and after journeying to be the 21st Chief Justice of our country, I can proudly tell the world that I owe what I am, first, to the grace of Almighty God and, second – in no small measure – to Far Eastern University.

As I have said many times in the past, my enrollment at FEU was one of the most important milestones in my life. In my valedictory address during my retirement as Chief Justice on December 6 last year, I publicly acknowledged that in FEU, “I learned not only academic excellence and well-rounded education, but also student leadership and the rudiments of my Catholic faith.” Indeed, the FEU Institute of Law prepared me for the intricacies of the law but the FEUCSO taught me how to get along with people and to lead them in achieving common goals.

Jurist and Leader

To be Chief Justice of the Philippines, one must have the qualities of both a jurist and a leader, qualities that sometimes clash. To be a jurist, one must be prepared to be a loner, to be an individualist who is familiar with the “ins and outs” of the Constitution, the codes and the statutes. A jurist is a recluse – cold, stoic, unreachable, unfathomable; a perceptive thinker and ingenious writer who composes personally all his or her decisions.

On the other hand, a leader is an incandescent team player who is versed in people skills; a consensus builder who systematically delegates authority and responsibility; an action person who innovates, reengineers and reinvents new and better ways to propel the organization to his vision, mission and core values.

Now, the Chief Justice is the primus inter pares, the first among the 15 highest magistrates of the land. Thus, he is expected to be a model in integrity, independence, industry and intelligence; one who follows strictly the Canons of Judicial Ethics.

On the other hand, the Chief Justice is also head of the Third Branch of government. The 2,000 judges, 26,000 judicial employees 40,000 lawyers all over the country look up to him for inspiration, example and leadership. He is expected to be an administrator, manager and financial wizard all rolled into one. Unlike ordinary justices, he cannot completely shun socials and public appearances. Quite the contrary, he must be adept in people skills. He cannot isolate himself from the world, although he must never be involved in its darkness and corruption.

Renaissance Jurist

If I have achieved a modicum of success and, if I must be worthy of the Plaque of Acclamation as the “Renaissance Jurist of the 21st Century” unanimously given me by my colleagues in the Supreme Court during my retirement a year ago, it must be because I learned the basics of the law from the FEU Institute of Law, and the fundamentals of leadership, nay of activism, from the FEUCSO.

Indeed, ladies and gentlemen, we all have every reason to be joyful at our reunion today and at the commemoration of the 80th anniversary of our beloved Alma Mater. For from her, “our young hearts saw the light” that brightened our way in our chosen paths. I owe Far Eastern University more than I can acknowledge in one little speech. To make up for that limitation, I have always proclaimed to the world my eternal gratitude to this great institution of learning for teaching me the fundamentals of academic excellence and dynamic leadership that I needed to become what I am now. Let us all stand, my brothers and sisters in the FEUCSO, and proclaim our fidelity to the home of achievers and leaders! Mabuhay ang FEU!

Maraming salamat po.

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