Down Memory Lane
FORMER CHIEF JUSTICE ARTEMIO PANGANIBAN WALKS CHIT LIJAUCO THROUGH ONE PHASE IN HIS LIFE VIA A ROOMFUL OF MEMORIABILIA
IN 1992 WHEN ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN was invited by President Fidel V. Ramos to be the Justice Secretary, his response was, “Mr. President, I might be the wrong choice; I did not campaign for you.” To which Ramos answered, “I know. You did not even vote for me!”
This was the thought that passed through Panganiban’s mind as he led us around a room filled with memorabilia of his 11 years in the Supreme Court, the second offer of Ramos after the Justice Secretary’s post was turned down. “It is a less political appointment,” he says. Clearly, it was a good choice as he spent his happiest as well as most productive years, ending in the highest judicial position in the country, Chief Justice.
The one-room structure behind the main house brims with memories. Nine togas on mannequins and one in a box; countless photographs, plaques, medals, trophies of recognition; precious souvenirs from heads of state; the seal, the gavel and the desk he used (this last one he bought); a corner dedicated to Rotary International, he being a Rotarian and past president of the Rotary Club of Manila; and so much more. “I still have so much more things to display,” says Panganiban, who has painstakingly organized and labelled the items with actuarial fastidiousness.
The unique display is a statement of a prolific career. In the time he spent at the Supreme Court, he wrote about 1,200 full-length decisions, 100 separate opinions, several thousand minute resolutions and 11 books. “One book a year and no cases left undecided,” said Justice Romeo J. Callejo Sr of what he calls Panganiban’s “unsurpassed record.”
Justice Callejo might as well have described the broader spectrum of his colleague’s career. For Panganiban has not just achieved an “unsurpassed record” in the Supreme Court; he has done so, and is still doing so, in the many facets of his life.
A lawyer, consultant, writer, businessman, professor, civic leader: these are some of the many hats he wears that summarize his numerous positions, past and present, in varied organizations from corporations to religious groups, from universities to his very own travel agency.
Baron travel, a leader in the industry, came about because of a personal promise. Early in life, he twice received a scholarship to study in the United States but failed to take either one, because he couldn’t afford the air fare. “It was then I told myself that my children will not suffer the same disadvantage and can travel anywhere in the world any time they want,” he says. Indeed, all his five children took their postgraduate studies abroad. “Well,” Panganiban quips, “if I had the money then, I would have bought an airline instead.”
The memories come back in a continuous current. One so dear is a carved signboard bearing his name. “It is a gift from the inmates of the Bilibid Prison [the national penitentiary],” he says. “They invited me once to be a guest speaker.” The invitation was a bit disconcerting. After all, he wrote the decision that convicted many of them. But he was unperturbed. “I gave them a message of hope,” he says. “I told them they are better off than others imprisoned by greed or by poor health; that after serving their sentence they will be free, but these people will never be free until, perhaps, death.”
Life after retirement from the Supreme Court is still active as he is now a sought-after adviser, consultant or independent director of several businesses as well as civic, non-government and religious groups. He also writes a daily column for a major newspaper and although he has decided not to go back to taking on cases, he does give legal advice to those who seek him out. He certainly would need a second house for these new memories.
Written by Chit Lijauco, Managing Editor, Philippine Tatler
Reproduced from the PHILIPPINE TATLER
May 2009 issue