The Right Man for the Right Job

Remarks delivered by retired Chief Justice
ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN during the investiture of Dr. Michael M. Alba as
President of Far Eastern University held on January 28, 2014 at the FEU
Auditorium, FEU, Manila

Many people know me as the first FEU law graduate to reach the highest court of the land, and later to be Chief Justice of our country. Permit me, however, to modify that a little bit, as follows: I became a justice of our Supreme Court, and later, the 21st Chief Justice of the Philippines because I am an FEU graduate! I may have said that modification with some levity but it contains grains of truth because what I have been, what I am and what I will ever be, I owe first and foremost to our Lord Jesus Christ; second, to my parents; and third, to the education, training and upbringing I imbibed from FEU and the other schools I was fortunate to have studied in. (Incidentally, only five local schools have produced chief justices: UP, UST, Manila Law College, Ateneo de Manila and FEU)

Ladies and gentlemen, I have said this many times before and I will say it again today.  After finishing my secondary education I, along with my batch of honor graduates from Mapa High School, wanted to enroll at the University of the Philippines. Even before we graduated, we would go to the UP campus, and before the Oblation, we promised one another that we would study diligently to earn scholarships at the only state university at that time.

True enough, my batch mates and I got our cherished UP scholarships but unlike them, I was not able to study at UP because my impoverished parents could not afford the then 15-centavo bus fare between our small rented apartment at Cataluna Street in Sampaloc, Manila to the UP campus in Diliman, Quezon City. So, they encouraged me to enrol at nearby FEU, which also granted me a scholarship.

I was of course disappointed, but ladies and gentlemen, let me say that that seemingly unfortunate event became one of the best turns of my humble life. For in FEU, I met some of the most important men and women who molded my young mind, starting with Arts and Sciences Dean Alejandro R. Roces, who at 37 later became the youngest secretary of education.

Then, there was the brilliant Law Dean Jovito R. Salonga who took a personal liking for me and taught me, what I call the “FEU model” of legal education which was a combination of Dr. Salonga’s insights from the three universities he graduated from; namely, UP for his basic law degree, Harvard for his master’s degree, and Yale for his doctoral degree. Third, let me hail Fr. Michael Nolan, the erudite FEU Chaplain, who taught me the rudiments of my Catholic faith. In turn, I helped Fr. Nolan (and the then other school officials) in building the FEU Chapel.

And finally, there was President Teodoro Evangelista, the epitome of dignity, prudence and fortitude. He served as FEU President for 19 years from 1952-1971 which overlapped with my 6-year stay at FEU from 1956 to1960. Though I was only one of the 36,000 students at that time, he would see me often because of my student leadership activities, which he encouraged.

Yes, FEU taught me not only the arts and sciences, not only my religious faith, not only the law; it also gave me the opportunity to excel in student leadership. I was the youngest and first sophomore student to be elected President of the FEU Central Student Organization, which gave me time to co-found and head the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP), the largest national student organization then and now. My parents and my batch mates were surprised at how I metamorphosed from a shy introvert in Mapa High to an active student leader in FEU and in the nation.

I personally know all the FEU presidents who succeeded Dr. Evangelista; namely, Dr. Nicanor M. Reyes, Jr. (1971-1982), Dr. Josephine C. Reyes (1985-1989), Dr. Felixberto C. Sta. Maria (1989-1995), Dr. Edilberto C. De Jesus (1995-2002),  and Dr. Lydia B. Echauz (2002-2012). The latter two, Dr. De Jesus and Dr. Echauz, I still encounter up to now in many business, philanthropic and educational pursuits.

I did not know Dr. Michael M. Alba till last month when FEU Board Chair Aurelio Montinola III introduced us to each other. Though we spoke for only an hour, yet Dr. Alba impressed me as perceptive, knowledgeable, purpose-driven, humble and possessed of distinct educational ideas designed for the 21st century. His ideas blended the legacies of the past with the exigencies of the present and the hopes of the future.

I am certain that he will equal, and I hope surpass, the tradition of excellence of his predecessors. I am confident that, under him, FEU will produce alumni more worthy than me and many others of my generation.

More than five decades ago when I was enrolled at FEU, I marvelled at the magic of black and white television, and the wonder of voices transmitted through telephone lines. Then, came the telex, fax machine, personal mobile phone, SMS, personal computer, Internet, email, iPad, smart phones, tablet, Google, GPS, Magic Jack, Skype, Facebook, Viber, Twitter and Square. Indeed, times have rapidly changed since then. And so have the scope, methods and ends of education.

Fellow alumni and friends, we are fortunate to have as the new president of our alma mater, a man of varied interests: an academic (PhD from Stanford), economist (economics professor at DSLU and UP and past president of the Philippine Economic Society), educator (past DLSU dean) and internationalist (former WB, ADB and USAid consultant) who understands the vagaries of the present and the promises of the future. As a proud alumnus, I welcome his investiture as the 11th President of FEU. I congratulate the Board of Trustees for its prudent choice. I believe Dr. Alba is the right man for the right job at the right time for the right institution. Cheers!

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