Three Orders of Dr. Morales

Keynote Address delivered by retired Chief Justice ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN during the Opening Ceremonies of the 18th Joint Annual Convention of the Philippine Society of Hypertension and the Philippine Lipid and Atherosclerosis Society held on February 13, 2013 at the Ballroom of the Crowne Plaza Galleria Hotel, Ortigas Avenue, Pasig City.

Thank you Dr. Dante D. Morales, President of the Philippine Society of Hypertension, and Dr. Alberto A. Atilano, President of the Philippine Lipid and Atherosclerosis Society, for inviting me to be your Keynote Speaker during your two organizations: Joint 18th Annual Convention, thereby enabling me to meet and hobnob with the best medical minds in your respective fields of specialization.

Subpoena from Dr. Morales

Having retired from active public life, I have made it a personal policy to refrain from delivering speeches. However, I dare not disobey the “order” of our esteemed family friend and physician, Dr. Morales; an order which in law is equivalent to a summon or subpoena, and which I dare not disobey on pain of being incarcerated by bad health without any hope of “parole” or “pardon.” In law, such bad health incarceration is equivalent to the capital penalty of life imprisonment. Fortunately, the death penalty had been abolished. Otherwise, defying Dr. Morales would have meant the imposition of the death penalty.

The only way for me to disobey Dr. Morales is, if my wife, Prof. Leni Panganiban, who is here with us today, orders me. You see, Supreme Court Justices, including Chief Justices, whether incumbent or retired, are all members of the Takusa Club, meaning Takot sa Asawa. Justices are known to be courageous and sagacious; they sentence and imprison murderers, robbers, kidnappers and swindlers; they reverse and nullify actions of the President and Congress. They are not afraid of anyone, except only two sets of people: their doctors and their wives.

However, in the present instance, Mrs. Panganiban is also afraid of Dr. Morales and her battery of medical specialists who attend to her osteoarthritis, high sugar, high blood pressure, high lipids, and high creatinin, so much so, that upon her doctors’ orders, she takes in 10 tablets in the morning and 10 tablets at night.

So, under doctors’ orders din po si Mrs. Panganiban. Kaya nga po hindi na talaga appealable ang order sa akin ni Dr. Morales and Dr. Atilano. Not even Mrs. Panganiban can alter, much less reverse, their subpoena. At kaya nga po naririto ako ngayon bilang isang masunuring Chief Justice.

Cause of Arthritis

Under the circumstances, I asked Dr. Morales what topics I should talk about in my Keynote Address. He replied that I have 45 minutes and that I should first crack a joke, second, discuss a recent Supreme Court decision that is of interest to physicians, and third, say something inspirational about life so all of you my dear doctors will have something to bring back home and relate to your spouses and children.

Being obedient, I will first crack a joke about an illness of senior citizens like me. A drunkard sat beside a priest on a bench at the Luneta. The man’s face was reddish, his breath smelled of alcohol, his speech a little blurred and his white shirt plastered with lipstick. He was reading a copy of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. After a while, the man turned to the priest and asked, “Say Father, do you know what causes arthritis?”

The priest replied, “My son, it is caused by loose living, being with cheap, wicked women, too much alcohol and sleeping with prostitutes.”

The man muttered in unbelief, “Well, I will be darned. I just read here in the Inquirer that the Pope has arthritis.”

Moral lesson: When sick, or when curious about illnesses, consult only doctors of medicine, not doctors of theology.

By your laughter, you appreciate jokes. So I will give you a bonus and crack another one. Husband asked his wife what she would want for Valentine’s day, which happens to be tomorrow, February 14, 2013. “Use your imagination. Find me a gift that would blow me away,” she replied. Being also a member of the Takusa Club, he obediently bought her a big electric fan. He is now recovering at the Manila Doctors’ Hospital of Dr. Morales.

Their neighbor asked his wife the same question. Wanting a Mercedes sports car, she replied, “I want something that will go from 0 to 200 in under 10 seconds.” The obedient husband, also a member of the Takusa Club, bought her a weighing scale. He is now confined in the next room at the Manila Doctors” Hospital.

Moral lesson: My dear male doctors. Please do not join the Takusa Club. It is dangerous to your health, as determined by the Surgeon General of the Supreme Court.

Latest Jurisprudence Involving Physicians

Now, let me go to the second order of Dr. Morales. The latest Supreme Court jurisprudence involving physicians is titled “Dr. Genevieve L. Huang vs. Philippine Hoteliers” promulgated two months ago on December 5, 2012.

Dr. Huang, the plaintiff, testified that she and her friend, Delia Goldberg, a registered guest of Dusit Thani Hotel, swam at the hotel’s swimming pool on June 11, 1995. Around 7:00 p.m., the pool attendant informed them that the swimming pool area was about to be closed. So, the two got out of the pool, proceeded to the shower room and dressed up. However, when they came out of the bathroom, the entire swimming pool area was already dark. They carefully walked towards the main door leading to the hotel but, to their surprise, the door was locked. They walked around to look for a house phone. While slowly walking towards the phone, a hard and heavy object, which later turned out to be a folding wooden counter top, fell on Dr Huang’s head and knocked her down almost unconscious.

Using the house phone, Delia Goldberg notified the hotel telephone operator of the incident. Later on, three hotel chambermaids placed an ice pack and applied some ointment on Dr. Huang’s head. After she slightly recovered, Dr. Huang was brought to the coffee shop where Dr. Violeta Dalumpines, the hotel physician, attended to her and asked her to sign a waiver in exchange for her medical assistance. Dr. Huang refused.

After experiencing headaches and dizziness, Dr. Huang consulted several experts, including (1) Dr. Perry Noble, a neurologist from Makati Medical Center, who – after examining her X-ray and MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) – told her she had “a very serious brain injury;” (2) Dr. Ofelia Adapon, also a Makati Med neurologist, who after looking at her Electroencephalogram (EEG), informed her she had “a serious condition—a permanent one,” and, (3) Dr. Renato Sibayan, who advised her she had a “serious brain injury.”

Months later, in November 1995, she went to the US and consulted Dr. Gerald Steinberg and Dr. Joel Dokson of Mount Sinai Hospital who both found she had “post traumatic-post concussion/contusion cephalgias-vascular and neuralgia.” Because her condition did not improve, Dr. Huang once again consulted Dr. Sibayan as well as Dr. Victor Lopez, a Makati Med ophthalmologist, because of her poor vision, and Dr. Leopoldo P. Pardo, Jr. to whom she disclosed that, at the age of 18, she suffered a stroke due to a mitral valve disease.

In 1999, Dr. Huang consulted Dr. Martesio Perez another Makati Med neurologist because of severe fleeting pains in her head, arms and legs; difficulty in concentration; and warm sensation in her legs. After extensive examinations, Dr. Perez concluded that Dr. Huang had “post-traumatic or post concussion syndrome.”

The Regional Trial Court ruled against Dr. Huang because (1) there was no proof that the head injury complained of was the direct and immediate result of the accident in the hotel; (2) Dr. Huang had a past medical history which might have been the cause of her recurring brain injury, (3) her lawyers failed to prove a “causal relation” between the hotel accident and the brain damage she suffered, and (4) “the medical reports/evaluations/certifications issued by myriads of doctors whom Dr. Huang sought for examination or treatment were neither identified nor testified to by those who issued them. Being deemed as hearsay, they cannot be given probative value.”

The Court of Appeals affirmed the findings of the Regional Trial Court, saying that Dr. Huang “failed to sufficiently substantiate that the medical symptoms are the direct result of the head injury she sustained.”

In its 41-page decision, the Supreme Court upheld these rulings of the lower courts, saying that Dr. Huang and her lawyers failed to disprove the findings of facts of the two lower courts. The high court said that Dr. Huang failed to prove “the cause and effect connection between the fault or negligence of the (hotel) and the damages incurred by (her).”

The Court explained inter alia, “Several factors militate against (Dr. Huang’s) contention. One. (She) recognized the fact that the pool area’s closing time is 7:00 p.m. She, herself, admitted during her testimony that she was well aware of the sign when she and (her companion) entered the pool area. Hence, upon knowing at the outset, of the pool’s closing time, she took the risk of overstaying when she decided to take a shower and leave the area beyond the closing hour. In fact, it was only upon the advice of the pool attendants that she thereafter took her shower. Two. She admitted, through her certification that she lifted the wooden bar countertop, which then fell on to her head. The admission in her certificate proves the circumstances surrounding the occurrence that transpired on the night of (June 11, 1995). This is contrary to her assertion in the complaint and testimony that, while she was passing through the counter door, she was suddenly knocked out by a hard and heavy object. In view of the fact that she admitted having lifted the countertop, it was her own doing, therefore, that made the counter top fall on to her head. Three. We cannot likewise subscribe to her assertion that the pool area was totally dark in that she herself admitted that she saw a telephone at the counter after searching for one. It must be noted that she and her companion had walked around the pool area with ease since they were able to proceed to the glass entrance door from the shower room, and back to the counter area where the telephone was located without encountering any untoward incident. Otherwise, she could have easily stumbled over, or slid, or bumped into something while searching for the telephone. This negates her assertion that the pool area was completely dark, thereby, totally impairing her vision. x x x x The aforementioned circumstances lead us to no other conclusion than that the proximate and immediate cause of her injury was due to her own negligence. Even her assertion of negligence on the part of the hotel in not rendering medical assistance to her is preposterous. Her own Complaint affirmed that the hotel afforded medical assistance to her after she met the unfortunate accident inside the hotel’s swimming pool facility.”

To sum up, I believe the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the hotel and against Dr. Huang on what we lawyers call questions of fact. It upheld the doctrine that the findings of facts of trial courts, when affirmed by the Court of Appeals, are binding on the Supreme Court, because the trial judge had the advantage of hearing the witnesses, and of observing their demeanor on the stand. Furthermore, in every litigation, the cause and effect relationship must be clearly established.

Admittedly, Dr. Huang was able to prove through the testimony of her battery of experts that she suffered brain injury, but she failed to show a direct causal relation between her head injury and her brain damage. And assuming for the sake of argument that indeed there was a cause and effect connection, the Court held that the proximate cause of her injury was her lifting of the counter top which slipped and fell on her head. No negligence on the part of the hotel was duly proven in accordance with the rules of evidence.

This shows the gap between actual fact and legal fact. An event may have happened in truth and in reality. But if it cannot be proven in court according to the rules of evidence, it cannot be given credence in a judicial proceeding. For instance, the many medical certifications were not taken into account in the judgment because they were not identified, authenticated and testified on during the trial. Hence, they were unfortunately deemed hearsay and inadmissible in evidence.

I have already retired when the Supreme Court decided this case of Dr. Huang. But I sympathize with her plight and her loss. However, she should not lose faith and must move on courageously, as I will explain in the next chapter of my speech.

Good News, Bad News
After that rather detailed narration of the newest Supreme Court case affecting physicians let me go to the third order of Dr. Morales: to say something inspirational, something true to life. To do this, let me tell you two stories. The first is fictional, while the second is real and true.

First, the fiction. Long ago in the Middle Ages, there lived in a small European village a farmer, his wife and their 20-year-old son. Using their horse, the farmer and his son tilled the fields.

One day, the horse ran away to the mountains. The villagers went to the farmer and said, “Bad news for you. Your only means of livelihood is gone. You have no more horse to help you till your field.” The farmer answered, “Good news, bad news, who knows? I will just keep trying my best and God will do the rest.”

A few days later, the horse came back with ten other wild horses. The villagers again visited the farmer and exclaimed, “Good news for you; now you have 11 horses, the most number in our village.” The farmer responded, “Good news, bad news, who knows? I will just keep on doing my best and God will do the rest.”

Three days later, the farmer’s son mounted one of the wild horses to tame it. Unfortunately, he was thrown off and he broke his left leg. Again, the villagers went to the farmer saying, “Bad news for you, your only son is now lame; he cannot help you in your farm.” Again, the farmer replied, “Good news, bad news, who knows? I will just keep on doing my best and God will do the rest.”

Then, the kingdom went to war. The King conscripted all the able-bodied men in the village, except of course the son of our farmer. Unfortunately, the Kingdom lost the war and all the young men in the village were killed. The villagers went again to our hero. “Good news for you; you’re the only one in the village with a son to succeed you. Bad news for all of us; we do not have any successors for our farms.” The farmer responded, “Good news, bad news, who knows? I will just keep on trying my best and God will do the rest.”

Do Your Best and God Will Do the Rest As I told you, this first story is fictional, one that was spun by a fertile imagination that sought to explain the mysteries of life and the vagaries of the future. Like the poor farmer and like many of you in the audience and like Dr. Huang, I too have had my share of bad news and good news. Like our poor farmer, I have also done my best and let God do the rest. But unlike the farmer’s story, mine is true and real.

I was born poor. My father was a mere high school graduate, while my mother made it only through primary school. I was the youngest of four children. Aside from his four children, my father had to support his seven siblings, two brothers and five sisters; my grandfather (his own father) died when they were all very young. In order to support all of us — his seven siblings and his four children — my father did not finish his schooling. He ended up working as a rank-and-file government employee.

In those days, right after World War II, times were tough. I had to hawk newspapers, sell cigarettes, and shine shoes on the streets of Sampaloc, Manila. In the evening, I would sleep on the sidewalks, where I waited for the early morning hour when the newspapers of the day would come in for delivery. At the time, we sold newspapers by running and shouting in the streets: “Manila Times, Manila Chronicle, Manila Bulletin, Philippine Herald.” (Now, newsboys have bicycles, even motorbikes, to ease their selling woes.)

Many times, as I lay awake on the cold pavement waiting for the break of dawn, I had to fight back tears and feelings of self-pity. I would think of my schoolmates as they slept on their beds, simply resting and letting the hours pass until it was time to wake up for school. But I had to work at an early age to be able to go to school.

Purely Secular Education for Me During those times, there was no faith to comfort me. Although born a Catholic, I did not know my religion. My parents themselves were not steeped in their faith, so they could not teach me much. I did not have the opportunity to attend catechism classes either, as I had enrolled at Candaba Elementary School (in Pampanga) during the war years, later at the Juan Luna Elementary School and Mapa High School (both in Manila) – all public schools. In short, I had a purely secular education.

After high school, I wanted to take up chemical engineering. In fact, my high school yearbook stated that my ambition was “to be a chemical engineer.” But my father insisted that I became a lawyer. “Pilosopo ka kasi. Matigas ang ulo,” he was wont to say. “At saka, kinokopya mo lang ang mga kapatid mo. Magsimula ka nang pansarili.” During our time, our father’s word was law and could not be broken. So, to a law career I reluctantly veered my sight.

My high school classmates and I used to go to the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman, Quezon City. Before the UP Oblation, we promised one another that we would study hard so we would be accepted in UP. As an honor student in a class of over 1,000 graduates of Mapa High School, I was given a scholarship for my pre-law at UP. My father, however, could not afford the then 15-centavo bus fare to Diliman, Quezon City. He advised me to enroll either at the University of Santo Tomas or at the Far Eastern University, both of which were walking distance from our small rented apartment in Cataluña Street, Sampaloc, Manila.

I applied first at UST. There, an old Dominican priest, who posed three questions to me as a prerequisite to an entrance scholarship, interviewed me. “How many Gods are there?” he asked. “One,” I readily replied. “How many persons are there in one God?” He followed up. “Three,” I answered. Then, came the final question, “Name them.” Believe it or not, ladies and gentlemen, I did not know the correct answer. So, I sheepishly whispered, “Jesus, Mary, Joseph.” Yes, I failed the test miserably. Disheartened, I enrolled at FEU. No questions were asked. But I studied diligently even while I continued to support my pre-law and law studies by peddling textbooks to my classmates and selling bibles to my professors.

After passing the bar examinations and upon the recommendation of my dean, Dr. Jovito R. Salonga, I was given a scholarship for a master’s degree in law at Yale University. But I could not afford the plane fare to the United States. I applied for a Smith Mundt travel grant at the U.S. Embassy, but was turned down. Without any money to finance my trip, I had to forego graduate education at Yale. At the time, I felt the world closing in on me. I felt frustrated and defeated.

Poverty and Hard Work My initial frustrations and difficulties in life turned out, though, to be blessings in disguise. Now I realize that my series of bad news eventually turned out to be good news, after all.

First, having been poor made me realize the value of hard work and the importance of a good college education. By persevering in my studies in high school, I was able to get scholarships for college. And in college, I continued to prioritize my studies despite my numerous extracurricular activities. Thus, I finished my Bachelor of Laws cum laude. My strict regimen of balancing academic and extra-curricular activities also prepared me for the painstaking bar examinations in 1960, in which I placed number 6, despite getting sick and being hospitalized during the first week of the tests.

Second, I learned to dream big and then work hard to attain those dreams. Right through the times when I was selling newspapers, I told myself that one day I would become the president of the Manila Times, the most popular newspaper at that time. As fate would have it, some decades later, I became president of the Philippine Daily Inquirer — the most widely circulated broadsheet in our country today.

Third, my inability to travel to Yale inspired me to put up my very own travel agency. Since organizing Baron Travel Corporation in 1967, traveling has never been a problem again for me, my wife, or my children. By now, all of us have seen the best sights and experienced most of the wonders of the ancient and e-age worlds.

My dream of obtaining a master’s degree in an Ivy League university has also been realized through, and by, my five children. Permit me to say that all of them have finished graduate studies in pedigreed U.S. universities — their schools of choice — including Harvard, Stanford, University of California, University of Chicago, University of Michigan and Boston University.

FEU: A Turning Point in My Life Fourth, going to FEU proved to be one of the best turns of my entire life. There, I learned the value of academic excellence, earned a well-rounded education, acquired leadership skills, and had my first encounters with my God.

During my law course, I was blessed with committed and conscientious professors who were very strict and demanding. At the top of the list was Dean Jovito R. Salonga, who – despite being a non-Catholic – became my role model in my chosen career. Through my esteemed guru, I had the privilege to receive not only UP-style education, but Harvard and Yale techniques as well. He shared with me what he learned in those three schools where he had finished his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. Indeed, I am grateful to him for his legal expertise; but more than that, for his moral courage, high-mindedness and love of country.

Search for God Above the core values of truth, integrity, excellence and courage that I imbibed, the final and most important matter I learned was my Catholic faith. While FEU prides itself in being nonsectarian, it was during my FEU days when I met persons who, little by little, initially fed my soul that was in search of faith and of my God.

Fr. Michael Nolan, the FEU chaplain then, under whose watch the FEU chapel was built, took a personal interest in me and in what I did. So he recruited me into the FEU Student Catholic Action and taught me the rudiments of Catholicism.

Fr. James Sheehy, another Columbian priest, insisted that a good Catholic must not only be personally pure, but also lead others to purity; in short, be a Christ to others. Those teachings were enough for me to make further efforts to learn and experience my faith. My initial contact with religion in FEU impelled me to search for God more deeply and passionately all my life.

Later on, particularly in the mid-1980’s, I became a renewed Catholic when Leni and I joined Bukas Loob sa Diyos (BLD). Some of our most memorable days as husband and wife were spent with this charismatic community — particularly when we shared our married life during our marriage encounters, and when we made attempts at spirituality as speakers during Life in the Spirit Seminars. I read over a hundred books and commentaries on the Bible and on Catholicism, and heard private tutors on religion.

Even if I was educated in public and nonsectarian schools, and even if I did not know my Catholic faith completely, God has been kind to me. He has enabled me to meet great Catholic lay leaders and outstanding men of the cloth. All of them led me to Catholic lay leadership. I was invited to be a delegate to the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines in 1991. Though unworthy, I was later appointed by Pope John Paul II as the only Filipino member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity for the 1996-2000 term. Thus, this ignorant poor boy who did not even know the three persons of the Holy Trinity became, as a pure gift from the Almighty, an adviser of the Holy Father as a member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity based in the Vatican.

Finding My Partner in Life

The environment in FEU also inculcated in me a hunger for leadership. Its owners and administrators encouraged and supported student leadership. Hence, it came as a surprise to my high school classmates that I would metamorphose from an introverted, shy and timid lad, to be president of the FEU Central Student Organization (FEUCSO) during my sophomore year — the youngest then to be so elected; and later to become co-founder and president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP), the largest student movement in our country.

Through the NUSP, I was able to interact with convent-bred students of elitist schools. St. Scholastica’s College was represented in the NUSP by a lovely, sweet, thoughtful and intelligent lady, Ms Elenita A. Carpio, who after a fabled courtship (but that’s another story worth retelling at another time) agreed to be my wife and lifelong partner.

Supreme Court Dream

The good-news-bad-news twists and turns of my life are evident not only in my struggles against deprivations, my secular education, my marriage and my search for faith, but also in my journey to the Supreme Court.

I had offers to join the government early in my career. On different occasions when I was a young lawyer, then Executive Secretary Rafael Salas invited me either to be a technical assistant in Malacañang or to be a judge. I declined those invitations because the compensation of public officials was (and is still) not enough to see my family through. I wanted my children to finish their studies without the financial woes of my own youth.

But many years later when all of my children had received their graduate degrees in the 1990s, I thought I would be ready for public service. I thought that the way to public service was the presidential election of 1992 when my mentor and guru, Senator Jovito R. Salonga, a three-time senatorial topnotcher, was a presidential candidate. Unfortunately however, he lost, the first election he lost since entering public service in 1961. So I thought too that my ambition for public office was shattered.

Meeting with President Ramos But just as that door to public service was closed, God mysteriously opened a window that I could not have anticipated. As we now know, the winner of that presidential election was Fidel V. Ramos. On June 17, 1992, after his election had been assured, he invited me to a meeting in his private office in Pasay Road, Makati City. For over an hour, we discussed, one-on-one, the efficacy of the rule of law in our society, the role of the courts, and the expectations of the people from their newly elected president. Finally, he offered me a seat in his Cabinet as secretary of justice. I was of course surprised because the offer came from the opponent of my candidate.

So, I immediately and respectfully declined his invitation, saying that I had not supported his candidacy. But he was insistent. He said, “I know you did not campaign for me. You did not even vote for me. You voted for your mentor, Jovy.” He explained he wanted a Cabinet that was representative of the entire population, not just of those who voted for him. He said that he was confident I would serve well, because he had witnessed how I had conducted myself as the president of our Rotary Club of Manila and as national vice-chairperson of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV).

Because I had reservations accepting a political position, President Ramos instead offered me a seat in the Supreme Court. That alternative I readily accepted because it was not political and I did not have to dance to the tune of his political family. But it took three more harrowing years before I became a member of the highest court of the land.

From 1992 to 1994, seven vacancies were created in the Supreme Court due to the retirement of the incumbents. In each of these vacancies, my name was submitted to the Judicial and Bar Council for screening. TheJBC is the government agency tasked by our Constitution to screen and recommend judicial appointments to the President.

But in all seven times, I failed the screening. Many objections were raised against me, like the alleged insufficiency of my professional competence and my alleged sins and wrongdoings. At one time, a former client suddenly surfaced at the JBC to complain about my supposed mishandling of a case that happened 25 years ago. And after I was able to explain the charges against me, I was bypassed anyway, because appellate justices were given priority over practising lawyers. It was pointed out that I might be qualified, but there were others who were even more qualified than me.

In other words, those past three years of screening were one long story of frustrations and defeats. Many times, I would sob and ask the Lord: “How long oh God, must I bear these frustrations and embarrassment of being rejected? Why must I suffer for charges and accusations that are absolutely baseless? I have repented my sins and reformed my life; why do You still allow me to be chastised?”

In all these frustrations and in spite of the hard questions I hounded the Lord with; I never lost faith in His wisdom and providence. I always took comfort in Romans 8:28:

“God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”

After having been by-passed seven times by the Judicial and Bar Council, I gave up on my Supreme Court ambition. Just as I did, an eight opening in the Court came about, and without so much effort on my part, the Judicial and Bar Council voted me unanimously to be included in the list of five recommendees sent to the President of the Philippines.

After being informed that I was finally in the JBC list, President Fidel V. Ramos, who knew of my difficulties in the Council nomination, called and asked me pointblank, “How did you do it?” “Do what sir,” I asked back. “How did you get the JBC to nominate you. How did you do it?” he repeated.

“Well, sir. I did not do it. The Lord did it. Hallelujah!” I exultantly replied.

The President made good his promise to me. And my career in the highest court of the land began, after I had given up on it.

It is my faith that it was God who made my appointment possible, In my book Justice and Faith published in 1997, I wrote that because I owed my office only to Him,

“all my actions and all my decisions will
all be in accordance with His commandments
and His Gospel. I hold office by God’s grace
and I pledge to serve Him and our people with
fortitude, integrity, competence and prudence.”

The Chief Justiceship God’s blessing, however, did not end there. As one of the senior members of the Court, I was included in late 2005 in the JBC’s short list of three nominees to succeed Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide Jr. After an exciting one month of prayer, I was chosen by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to be the 21st Chief Justice of the Philippines. Unlike in my experience with President Ramos, I had no occasion to speak with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo prior to my appointment. But as in the past, I considered my Chief Justiceship as a gift from our Lord to be used only pursuant to His Will.

Many people have asked me how I found the courage to lead our Supreme Court in deciding landmark decisions, such as those that struck down several issuances of the President who appointed me; namely, Executive Order 464, the so-called Calibrated Preemptive Policy, Proclamation 1017 and, most especially the people’s initiative to amend the Constitution and change our presidential system of government to parliamentary. My answer is the same since I started as a member of the Court in 1995: I hold my office by God’s grace; I act only in accordance with the Lord’s will; I make my decisions only after much reflection, discernment and prayer.

New Career in the Business Community

After retiring from the Supreme Court, I thought that my career was over. In fact, with my retirement pay, my wife and I planned to live in a small house. Since all our children had their own residences, we thought of renting out our big family home in Dasmarinas Village, Makati, which we bought in 1979, and live on the monthly rentals. In addition, I hoped that by writing a column in the Inquirer, I would be able to keep tract of current events.

However, soon after my retirement on December 7, 2006, I received one offer after another to sit as an independent director or adviser in the board of directors of some of the biggest and finest corporations listed in the Philippine stock exchange. The offers came mostly from people whom I have not met before, but who appreciated my work in the judiciary. I liked these offers, because as an independent director, I did not represent any shareholder or vested interest in the boards I sat on.

Under the law, my job was and is still to see to it that the companies that elect me observe the canons of good corporate governance. In this sense, I act as a check on management. I enjoy my work because it is a continuation of the environment of independence, integrity, probity and competence I was used to in the Supreme Court.

In sum, at present, I sit in the boards of a dozen blue chip companies including Meralco, PLDT, Bank of PI, Metrobank, Petron, GMA Network, First Philippine Holdings, Jollibee, Metro Pacific Investments, Metro Pacific Tollways, Robinsons Land and Asian Terminals. And if I may add, I also enjoyed the luxury of respectfully declining offers from some other companies where I thought I could not work effectively, because I had a conflict of interest or because I could not work comfortably with the major owners.

So, even in my retirement, the succession of good news and bad news still pervades my life, as I am sure it also pervades yours in many inspiring and glorious ways.

To God Be the Glory

As I end my life story, let the choicest gratitude and praise be unto God Almighty who, despite my occasional shortcomings and failures, has been ever faithful to me in all my 76 years of temporary sojourn here on earth. He has never failed to grant me all that is good and beautiful in His own way, in His own time.

When I was new in the Supreme Court in 1995, I composed a prayer that I would like to recite here:

“The Lord is my Shepherd. There is nothing I shall want. He has given me more than I deserve — a happy home, a healthy body, accomplished children over whom I no longer worry, a stable career, a chance to serve our people, an opportunity to be remembered longer than my own life. Other than fulfilling my role in the Court, I have no more earth-bound ambition. I live my life with only one consuming passion: on that inevitable day when I will finally knock at the pearly gates, my Lord and Master will open the door, spread his arms and say: ‘Well done on your earthly sojourn. You have passed the test. Welcome home to my everlasting Kingdom!’”

From the time I composed that prayer in 1995 up to the present, I look back poignantly at my trials and triumphs, victories and defeats, frustrations and exaltations; and, in all of them, I always find my faithful God.

Indeed, I have journeyed from being a poor newsboy in the backstreets of Sampaloc to being president of the most widely read newspaper in our country; from an ignorant Catholic to a member of the highest lay council of the Catholic Church; from a frustrated applicant for graduate studies to father of five wonderful children who each achieved my impossible dream of finishing in a pedigreed US university; from a fumbling shoeshine boy to the board rooms of the biggest and best corporate giants in our country; from an aspiring chemical engineer to a reluctant lawyer and, finally, to the highest magistrate of our country.

As I contemplate my life and move toward its sunset, I know that God has woven my many pains and gains into a magnificent tapestry showing His mystical presence. Truly, there is one constancy in my life: the presence, care and providence of my one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

To Him, I dedicate all that I have been, all that I am, and all that I will ever be. To God be the glory!

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