Two Amortal Men of Honor and Substance

Toast of retired Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban for Foreign Secretary Albert F. del Rosario and Ambassador to Japan Manuel M. Lopez during a Reception held in his house, 1203 Acacia, Dasmariñas Village, Makati on May 3, 2011

We are gathered this evening to pay tribute to two of the finest men of honor and substance in the service of our country, Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert F. Del Rosario and Ambassador to Japan Manuel M. Lopez.

Allow me to say a little more about them before we hear a few words from them, starting with Ambassador Lopez. Perhaps the first question that comes to our mind is why these two distinguished and accomplished men have chosen to leave their cozy world of retirement to join the perplexing, exciting, heart-bursting yet sometimes unrewarding life under the public microscope. The simple answer, of course, is that they could not refuse the call of President Noynoy Aquino to help him win the war against corruption and poverty, and to transform our country.

The other answer is that they are merely changing tires prior to embarking on a new journey. They know that happiness lies not in merely adding more years to life, but – more important – in adding life to those years. Lifespans have indeed lengthened. We now live 30 years longer than our grandparents, and 20 years longer than our parents. Scientific data show that our life expectancy continues to increase, by two to five years per decade. So I dare say that today’s 70 year-olds are just the equivalents of the yesteryears’ 50 year-olds.

With stem cell research, longevity is accelerated even more. It is now possible to grow new tissues from our own adult stem cells, and implant them into our body without danger of rejection. The cure for diabetes, Alzheimer, dementia, certain types of cancer and other heretofore-incurable diseases can be expected in our generation.

Even more recently, a new compound called resveratrol, found in red grapes and other fruits, has been shown to lengthen life by restricting the body’s caloric absorption. Also, a new enzyme called telomerase immortalizes human cells by lengthening the telomeres – the DNA units that appear at the end of chromosomes and determine the aging of our tissues.

In this new age of agelessness, the secret in adding life to our years is to stay involved, to continue to do what gives us fulfillment and pleasure, to construct a life full of attractions that we forget our calendar age and remember only to chase ever-new aspirations. In this way, we become – no, not immortal – but amortal, a word coined by Time Magazine.

Amortal indeed our two guests are. This explains why at past the old and pass retirement age of 65, they are still as sprightly as the 45 year olds in the boardrooms, tennis courts and golf courses of the last generation.

No wonder then that upon arriving at his post in Tokyo, Manolo Lopez – that’s his familiar and amortal name – immediately and seamlessly coped with the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan. Using his gung-ho leadership, he personally supervised the relief and rehabilitation program for our overseas workers affected by this disaster. Undauntedly, he journeyed to the disaster site personally with little regard for the possible effects of radiation on his own health.

I first met Manolo Lopez four years ago in early 2007, two months after I retired as Chief Justice of our country. Over lunch, he and the two other Lopez family patriarchs, Don Oscar M. Lopez and Don Eugenio (Gabby) L. Lopez IIIinvited me to change tires and to begin a new journey as an independent director of First Philippine Holdings Corporation. A year later, in 2008, Manolo Lopez offered me another independent directorship, this time in Meralco, the largest electric distribution utility in the Philippines, where he was and still is the chairman of the board.

Though privileged by birth, Manolo Lopez is a populist by choice. He is known not only for his consensus-driven style of leadership but also for his gung ho advocacies for the poor and the disadvantaged. He motivates everyone by his personal example of integrity and devotion to duty. All in all, he is highly principled but not haughty, self-propelled but not self-righteous, courageous but not pugnacious, prudent but not tentative, humble but not wimpy.

Japan is one of the most important countries in this planet, and a cherished friend of the Philippines. We are fortunate that a competent, patriotic, dependable and prudent diplomat represents us in Japan. With him at the frontline, all of us can be rest assured of the best possible representation.

Friends, ladies and gentlemen, join me in a toast to honor Ambassador Manuel M. Lopez. Excellency, we thank you for getting out of the safe cocoon of your home and the privileges of wealth, and for wading in the difficult and sometimes unappreciated service for our people. May you continue to live a long, happy and healthy life in the company of your lovely and sweet wife Maritess and in the embrace of your loving children and grand children. Finally, may you have a very Happy Birthday two weeks from now on May 20. Cheers!!!

* * *

Thank you Ambassador Lopez for your words of wisdom. Now let me turn to another amortal. I first met Secretary Albert F. Del Rosario more than three decades ago when we used to dine monthly, along with a third friend Doming Lim who has now gone to the Great Beyond. We would then speak about the many challenges besetting the nation and our little dreams of contributing our bit to help solve them.

Basically a business leader, he tested his musings on how to solve our national problems in his many business involvements. But his opportunity to fulfill our dreams in the public sector came in 2001 when he was named Philippine Ambassador to the United States, our country’s most important diplomatic posting.

His stint in the diplomatic corps came to an abrupt end in 2006 when he staunchly refused to support and, in fact, opposed the then administration’s plan to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and to impose emergency rule.

From there, he went back to the business sector where we met in the board rooms of PLDT, Metro Pacific Investments Corporation and other companies during which we continued – on the side – to speak about his interrupted dreams for our country. When President Aquino offered him to head the premier Cabinet post in the Foreign Service, I immediately urged him to accept so he could fulfill his suspended hopes for a better Philippines.

Upon being sworn in and without much ado, he immediately flew to the Middle East several times to personally supervise the repatriation of our Overseas Filipino Workers who were trapped in the revolutions sweeping Egypt, Libya and other countries there. This is typical of his leadership and work style: to meet challenges head-on and hands-on and to take decisive, courageous and, yes, heroic actions to solve them, without TV cameras, press releases, fanfare and glitter.

Many were surprised to watch on television and to read in the newspapers that Albert Del Rosario climbed 20 stories in Singapore when the electric current conked out during the visit of President Aquino, whom he accompanied in that island state.

However, those who really know him were not surprised. After all, at past the chronological age of 70, he plays golf regularly by walking the six-kilometer fairways, without the use of any golf cart. Before that, he and his equally athletic and statuesque wife, Gretchen were tennis champions at the Manila Polo Club. Moreover, he energetically sat in the boards of over 40 large corporations. What better proof is there of amortality than our own Foreign Affairs Secretary’s dynamo and drive?

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a toast to Secretary Albert F. Del Rosario. Excellency, may all your dreams come true and all your hopes for a better Philippines be fulfilled during our lifetime. May you succeed in your vision and mission in the Department of Foreign Affairs. And may you, Gretchen and your family be ever amortal, ageless and evergreen. Mabuhay!!!


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