MANILA, Philippines—A great idea Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago has. Her Senate Bill 2797 extends the retirement age of government workers from 65 to 70 years. She cogently argued, “Many people want to keep working for a variety of reasons other than economic survival, including enjoyment of the office camaraderie or the sense of purpose that work brings.” In turn, the government would “benefit from the expertise of our public officials for a bit longer.”

Longer life spans. I agree with her. In fact, she could have gone further by including our military personnel and those in the private sector. (The retirement of justices and judges is fixed by the Constitution at 70 and can be changed only by constitutional amendment, not by statute. Hence, it cannot be included.)

The present retirement ages were set 122 years ago when life expectancy was only 37 years. Since then, life spans have lengthened. On the average, we now live 30 years longer than our grandparents, and 20 years longer than our parents did. 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 yesteryears’ 50-year-olds.

To prolong life, 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 use of adult stem cells has muted the ethical and religious objection on earlier researches using embryonic stem cells. As a result, the cure for diabetes, Alzheimer’s, dementia, certain types of cancer and other heretofore-incurable diseases can be expected shortly.

Recently, Time magazine reported that 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 at the end of chromosomes that determine the aging of our tissues.

Ageless and evergreen. 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. View retirement as a mere change of tires for a new journey. In this way, we become—no, not immortal—but “amortal,” a word coined by Time magazine.

Amortal is the term I used to toast new Foreign Secretary Albert F. del Rosario and new Ambassador to Japan Manuel M. Lopez during a cocktail reception I hosted in our Makati home. At past the passé retirement age of 65, they are still as sprightly—mentally and physically—as the 45-year-olds in the boardrooms, executive suites, 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.

Many were surprised to watch on television and to read in the newspapers that Secretary 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 a 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—prior to his DFA stint—in the boards of over 40 large corporations.

Toasts for the amortals. Joining me in hailing Del Rosario and Lopez were other amortals, like former President Fidel V. Ramos, taipans John Gokongwei Jr., Oscar M. Lopez, George S. K. Ty and Washington Sycip, who, though nominally retired, continue to provide dynamism and direction to their conglomerates.

Livening the toasts were PLDT Group chair Manuel Pangilinan, San Miguel Corp. president Ramon Ang, Bangko Sentral Governor Amando Tetangco, Banco de Oro boss Tessie Sy Coson, Metrobank chair Antonio Abacan, BPI president Gigi Montinola, PLDT president Napoleon Nazareno, SSS chair Juan Santos, Citybank boss Sanjiv Vohra and Sugar king Pedro Roxas.

Among the young CEOs were Jollibee’s Tony Tan Caktiong, Petron’s Eric Recto, Inquirer’s Sandy Prieto Romualdez, Star’s Kevin Belmonte, Cebu Pacific’s Lance Gokongwei, Fedex’s Bert Lina, Toyota’s Alfred Ty, FEU’s Lydia Echauz, ATI’s Yosi Tanco, Accra’s Ave Cruz, South China Resources’ Ed Reyes and MAP president Jun Palafox.

Among the 45 ambassadors present were Abdulla Ahmed Al-Mutawaa (Qatar and dean of the Diplomatic Corps), Liu Jianchao (China), Stephen Lillie (UK), Nikolay Kudashev (Russia), Jorge Domecq (Spain), Thierry Borja de Mazota (France), Abdullah Al Hassan (Saudi Arabia), Lee Hye-min (Korea), Alcides Prates (Brazil) and Robert Gerald Brinks (the Netherlands). Also present was the dean of the Consular Corps, Hugh Wilson (Australia).

Due to space limits, I regret I cannot name all the diplomats, business leaders and friends who graced the cocktails.

* * *


Filed under Columns

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