Keynote Address delivered by retired Chief Justice ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN on the first day of the 36th National Student Congress sponsored by the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) held on December 15-18, 2007 in Cebu City.
May I thank you, the delegates from NUSP-member schools attending this 36th National Student Congress held here in Cebu, for inviting me to deliver the keynote address on the theme “NUS at 50: Continuing the Legacy of Passionate Student Leadership, Advancing the Rights and Welfare of Students and the Filipino People, Strengthening the Union Towards Serving Society.”
Delighted to Relive Carefree Years
Though already retired from the judiciary and perhaps old enough to be your grandfather, I am nonetheless delighted to be with you today to relive my carefree days as a young man. I have lived on this planet for over seventy years; have met some of the most important people that populate it during my lifetime; have enjoyed some trappings of power and luxury; have traveled to all the continents of our earth, except Antarctica; and have marveled at the wonders of the old and new world, like the Pyramids of Egypt and Mexico, the Coliseum of Rome, the Iguasu Falls in South America, the Grand Canyon in the United States, the Rockies in Canada, the fiords in Norway, the Blue Mountains of Sydney, the hidden Peruvian City of Machu Pichu, the Great Wall of China, St. Peters Basilica in the Vatican, the Taj Mahal of India, the Museums of St. Petersburg, Disneyworld in Florida, and of course, the rice terraces of Banaue.
Let me tell you very candidly that I would exchange all of that to turn back the hands of time and to relive my years as a student leader, especially those I spent attending the various leadership functions of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP). I will gladly swap all my experiences as a man of the law, my travels around the globe, and my victories in my battles against poverty, to be able to enjoy again my student pursuits, to be freed completely from any material, professional, social or intellectual attachments, to be young again and to dream without borders and biases. Yes, to all of you I say: enjoy the best time of your life; you can be young only once; be the best of what you can be in dreams and in reality.
Three-Fold NUS Conference Theme
Your theme is very appropriate during this 50th year of the NUSP. First, you want to look back into the past and connect with the legacy of our Union, its visions and values at its inception and how these double v’s of vision and values have been lived in reality. Second, you also seek to improve the future by advancing the rights and welfare of the students and the entire Filipino people. Third, you want to foster the present by strengthening the NUSP so it could continue serving society.
I am deeply impressed by your theme, because it speaks of ideals, of vision and values, and of dreams and reality. I firmly believe that every person and every organization must have a vision of what he, she or it intends to accomplish, a method of fulfilling them, and a set of immutable values to guide the journey until the destination is reached. Without vision and values, one will be like a ship without a rudder, or an airplane without avionics. The journey cannot be completed because the ship or the airplane will be moving without direction and purpose. It will crash in the shoals of uncertainty and failure.
As a founder of the NUSP, let me, in this keynote address, start by discussing the visions and values that guided us fifty years ago when we organized the Union. Let me bring you back to the decade of the fifty’s when your parents were not yet born, and when your grandfathers were merely whispering “sweet nothings” into the ears of your grandmothers.
During the late 1950’s, the exchange rate was two pesos to one dollar, ice cold bottled soft drinks sold for ten centavos, a semester’s tuition was only about 150 pesos, but let me tell you very quickly that we were still complaining about how expensive education was. Cars sold for about four thousand pesos. But note too that the minimum wage was only four pesos per day. The favorite dances were the boogie, cha-cha and tango, and the preferred venues for the much-awaited junior-senior proms were the Winter Garden of the Manila Hotel and the Sky Room of the Jai-Alai on Taft Avenue, Manila, both of which are now gone and memorialized only in faded pictures of your lolos and lolas.
At that time, the dominant student movements were the Student Councils’ Association of the Philippines (SCAP), the College Editors Guild (CEG), and the Conference Delegates Association of the Philippines (CONDA) which were led by the University of the Philippines, Far Eastern University, University of the East, MLQ University and the Lyceum of the Philippines.
Most of the Catholic schools, with the exception of St. Paul’s and Sta. Isabel, were either inactive in, or not members at all of, national student movements. Most of the girls’ colleges were cloistered. The students – colegialas we called them – were content to be confined within the protective walls of their schools. They did not mix with the “indio” students of the nonsectarian institutions.
The Cold War: The US and the USSR
At that time, the world was divided into two great camps, one group – the liberal democracies – was led by the United States; and the other – the totalitarian-communist states – was headed by the erstwhile Soviet Union. There was, what was called the “cold war,” the insidious struggle by these two great powers for the minds and loyalties of the peoples of the world. Dominating the socio-economic, military and political environment, the cold war was carried on during debates in the United Nations, in the economic competition of the great powers, in the so-called wars of liberation, and even in the day-to-day lives of the peoples of the planet.
The popular movie spy thrillers of James Bond and Napoleon Solo – for those of you who have watched them – give an idea of the ramifications of the cold war. Those of you who love history must know about the great missile crisis of the 1960’s when United States President John F. Kennedy ordered the US Navy to stop the Soviet armada sent by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to bring their missiles to Cuba to terrorize the heartland of America. Had the Soviet Union crossed the US naval blockade, World War III could have been ignited, and much of the civilized world could have been devastated by a nuclear holocaust.
The cold war ended in 1989 when the Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of its own economic maladies. Freedom beckoned to the erstwhile Soviet Republics, like Georgia, Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, which were liberated from communist rule. Russia itself, the main component of the Soviet Union, underwent its democratic renaissance when Boris Yeltzin rose to power during the same year.
In any event, the cold war’s long international tentacles crept into the student movements in the Philippines and elsewhere. A congressional investigation showed that the communists infiltrated these student organizations, especially SCAP and CONDA. Their leaders were wined, dined and indoctrinated during international student conferences held in China, Russia and other communist countries.
Apart from that, the government tried to muzzle student organizations by corralling them in what was called the “Consultative Council of Students,” more popularly called the “Little Cabinet.” They were pampered with free travel, scholarships, dole-outs and other perks, in exchange for partisan political favors. The situation was so serious that during the elections of the SCAP in September, 1957, I rose – as the then newly elected president of theFEU Central Student Organization along with Fernando Lagua of UP and Alfonso Aguirre of San Beda College – to question these communist and partisan political activities that shackled both the SCAP and the CONDA.
The Walk-Out and the Birth of the NUS
I received no satisfactory answer. Instead, the SCAP leaders tried to placate me by unanimously electing me as vice president for international affairs of the SCAP, a much-coveted position that would have entitled me to travel, free of charge, to many countries with pocket money from Malacanang. These were attractive incentives to a very poor boy like me who could not enjoy a scholarship offered by the University of Philippines, because I did not have enough money to pay for the bus fare from our small rented apartment in Sampaloc, Manila to the UP Campus in Diliman, Quezon City. Notwithstanding all these, I chose the more difficult, straight and narrow path by seceding from both the SCAP and the CONDA, rejecting my lucrative position in SCAP, and refusing membership in the President’s august “Little Cabinet.”
Luckily, I was not alone in my idealism. Student leaders from the University of the Philippines (led by Fernando A. Lagua), University of Santo Tomas (led by Julio Macaranas), San Beda College (led by Alfonso J. Aguirre, St. Theresa’s (led by Ma. Theresa Endencia), National University (led by Miguel Sanidad) and Sta. Isabel (led by Hermila Milaflor) joined in the walk out and formed the nucleus of the NUSP. Yes, these seven schools – FEU, UP, UST, SBC,STC, NU and SIC – founded the NUSP.
The first National Student Congress, presided by yours truly and attended by about 300 delegates from 26 schools (with FEU contributing 150), met on December 26-31, 1957 at the St. Louis College (now St. Louis University) in Baguio City, approved the new Constitution and Bylaws, and elected its Executive Board for 1958 with Fernando A. Lagua, then president of the UP Student Council, as chairman and yours truly as first vice-chair. We did not elect a president during those early days. The Executive Board ran the Union collegially. In fact, the organization was simply called NUS; the “P” for Philippines was added later on to distinguish it from student unions from other countries.
Parenthetically, may I add that at that time, Fernando A. Lagua and Homobono Adaza, the then editor of the Philippine Collegian, were quite busy with their activism at the University of the Philippines, resulting in the suspension of Lagua and the expulsion of Adaza from the University. But that’s another story. Suffice it to say that despite these UP problems, we had to carry on with the new student union. And whenever Lagua was tied up with the UP problems, I had to take over as Acing Chairman of the Executive Board.
Seminar on Communism
The second major NUSP project was the Seminar on Communism held in Naga City on April 17-22, 1958, with yours truly also as Seminar Chairman. Aside from learning the evils of communism, I consider this Seminar extra-important because it facilitated my acquaintance with one lovely delegate, the editor of the Scholastican of St. Scholastica’s College, Elenita A. Carpio, who three years afterwards, on April 8, 1961, became Mrs. Leni Carpio Panganiban at a wedding in the Immaculate Conception Church in Cubao, Quezon City.
It was also during this Seminar, specifically during our excursion to nearby Mayon Volcano that I nearly died, because of the rupture of my appendicitis. I was rushed to the St. Mary’s Maternity(!) Clinic in Tabaco, Albay. The head physician there, probably an obstetrician, diagnosed my wrenching stomach ache as a bad case of indigestion. So, he made me drink castor oil, which I fortunately threw out. Unable to make me swallow the medicine, he injected me with morphine, which put me to sleep for 24 hours. Upon waking up, I continued presiding over the Seminar, not knowing that I was carrying a ruptured appendix.
Two weeks later, back in FEU, my stomach acted up again. I had to undergo immediate operation at the FEUHospital. “You are lucky, Temiong,” mused Dr. Ricardo Alfonso, the surgeon, “Your appendix ruptured two weeks ago in Albay, but the toxins did not spread because they were contained by the fat that enveloped your appendicitis.”
At the end of that year (1958), the NUSP held its Second National Congress also in Baguio City, during which I was elected President for the year 1959. As an aside, may I explain that I was elected President of the FEU Central Student Organization in 1957 during my sophomore year as a law student. So, I had three years – my second, third and fourth year in the FEU Institute of Law to be able to nurse the NUSP during its infancy. After my one-year term as President in 1959 (during that time, reelection was banned by our Constitution), I was elected Secretary General for the year 1960.
The Institute of Student Affairs
Thereafter, I spent three more years looking after NUSP. Let me explain. After graduating from law school in 1960, I formed the Institute of Student Affairs (ISA) that obtained grants and technical assistance from foundations, principally the Asia Foundation, and educational associations, notably the Philippine Association of Colleges and Universities (PACU), the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP), Association of Christian Schools and Colleges (ACSC), and foreign groups like the Geneva-based World University Service (WUS) to provide secretariat and financial aid to NUSP and other legitimate student groups. While practicing law as an assistant to Dr. Jovito R. Salonga and concurrently teaching law, I administered ISA on the side.
After his term as NUSP President, the late Sen. Raul Roco succeeded me in 1963 both as Secretary General of the NUSP and Executive Director of the ISA. The ISA assisted NUSP till 1965 when the Union became mature and could stand on its own finances without succumbing to the temptations of politicians and other vested groups that sought to undermine it. Having achieved its mission, the ISA was then dissolved. And the NUSP became a full-grown organization, took the high road and became the largest and most independent student organization in the country.
Faithful Reflection of Student Opinion
From this rather long narration of the beginnings of NUSP, which I culled from aging albums and clippings I had kept, some of which you saw in the PowerPoint presentation, let me summarize our vision of NUSP at its inception. To do that, may I quote from a speech I delivered as Union President in 1958:
“The NUS was founded as a positive answer to the decadent state of student leadership in the country. The Union is pledged to unite and reflect faithfully student opinion on current national issues, free the youth from undue political interferences, fight communist infiltration in the campuses, and redirect the youth’s thinking and energy to constructive idealism.”
Its core values were “dignity, integrity, independence, liberty, responsibility and democracy.” These were the qualities that characterized NUSP and its leaders. Let me say with pardonable pride that these ideals were achieved, because the communist effort to infiltrate student movements failed. Freedom prevailed. Furthermore, the President’s “Little Cabinet” was dissolved, because – after NUSP was activated – no reputable student leader joined it. And so the students were liberated from the political and partisan apron strings of the government. They remained free and idealistic.
Of course, we had other projects like the national speech festival started in 1958 to commemorate the second anniversary of NUSP. We even had an NUS March, with music and lyrics by Prof. Rosendo Santos of the UP Conservatory of Music. It went this way:
NUS youth leaders of the land
Bright young hopes who will fight to the end
For the high ideals of the free
Set by our heroes who fought and died for thee Chorus
Dear Filipinas, the pearl of orient seas
We pledge to safeguard democracy and peace
We’ll work forever for thy destiny
The students of the world we’ll bind in perfect harmony
To keep ever burning the torch of liberty
And always with spirit we’ll work for thy success
Cheers and Mabuhay to thee, NUS.
You will observe from the lyrics of the march the vision and values we fought for: democracy, liberty and peace.
I am certain that, if asked, every NUSP president and batch of leaders have their own story of how they evolved these vision and core values. Without meaning to preempt them, let me just cite briefly, the heroism of the batches in the early 70’s when they led the so-called first quarter storm. They protested and rallied incessantly against the abuses and tyrannies of martial law. NUSP President Edgar Jopson gave up his life fighting for these same ideals of liberty and democracy we all believe in.
Ferdinand Marcos, the dictator, was so displeased by the NUSP’s crusade for freedom and democracy that he banned the Union and the formation of student councils. But after he was toppled in 1986, NUSP was resurrected and became once more the dominant student movement in the country.
As an aged alumnus of our Union, I look back with pride as I review the many achievements of the NUSP over the last five decades, especially during the dark days when NUSP leaders so brilliantly defended the light of freedom and democracy. Indeed, I am happy and pleased that over the last fifty years, the NUSP has more than lived up to the vision, values and expectations of its founders. Mabuhay and NUSP!
Present Problems Facing the Youth
To sum up, I have thus far discussed the two major problems of my student days – communist infiltration and governmental meddling in the affairs of the young – and how we overcame them by following our vision and values. These problems may pale in comparison with the difficulties facing the youth today; these are the very same humongous problems that face our nation: wrenching poverty, declining educational standards, malgovernance, endemic corruption, flagrant election cheating, human right violations, lack of accountability, and assaults on our democratic institutions, not to mention our recurring insurgencies and military mutinies.
I must admit that these problems and issues are far more numerous and complex than those that faced us when I was young but just the same, you – the youth leaders now – must be heard in their discussions and solutions. Our country really belongs to the young; the old people merely administer it for them in the meantime. Therefore, during this NUSP Congress, I expect you to tackle these plagues, denounce their perpetrators, and offer – whenever possible – some perspectives and solutions.
Because some of these problems are complex, NUSP needs to research on them before it can formulate solutions and action programs. I do realize that to be able to study them and to forge programs to solve them, you need research and backgrounders, that in turn require funding without strings. And so, the Alumni of NUSP thought of organizing a Foundation to be able to help you with your work. The Foundation is now in the process of incorporation, with the following as incorporators: Loida Nicolas Lewis (yes, the dollar multi-millionaire from New York), Sonia M. Roco, Hector Villacorta, Imelda M. Nicolas, Lito Abelarde, Alvin Peters (the current NUSP secretary general) and yours truly.
Apart from these seven, several other NUSP alumni have responded to the call for activism. The alumni core group is meeting regularly to prepare for a homecoming on August 8, 2008, the date is easy to remember; it consists of a triple eight: 8-8-08. Though belonging to the older generations, NUSP alumni-leaders still burn with the fires of these double v’s, vision and values, even after their graduation and journey into their professional careers.
Fulfilling the Vision and Core Values
At this point, you may ask: “Can you tell us how your vision and core values had been carried on after you graduated from NUSP and entered the bigger world of the professions, the business community and the judicial service that capped your life career?”
Without meaning to brag, but only to report to you how I lived up to my NUSP ideals through the years, let me summarize in one sentence my vision when I was the Chief Justice of our country. I have articulated this many times in various forums; in fact, I have written a book about it entitled “Liberty and Prosperity” and have convened a Global Forum of jurists on October 18-20, 2006, to promote it.
I envision “a judiciary that safeguards the liberty of our people and nurtures their prosperity under the rule of law.” My core values are encapsulated in four “In’s”: integrity, independence, industry, and intelligence. How did I live up to these vision and values? Did I remain true to these ideals? Are they consistent with those I set forth as a young man fifty years ago? I will speak no further. I will just ask you to answer the questions for me. Indeed, I will let you and history be the judge.
Finally, let me end this address with a question for each one of you. Do you each have a vision and values to guide you in the next fifty years of your life? Fifty years from now, you may be invited like me to keynote the 100th anniversary of the NUSP, can you speak about how your lived your vision and values? For your own recording, please put them in writing and include them in your digital files, so that fifty years from now, in the presence of your children and grandchildren, you may show these mementos and declare before God and man that you have lived your life in accordance with these cherished ideals, and that indeed you have been victorious in your life’s mission on earth.
Maraming salamat po.