Short sharing of Retired Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban during the Asian Conference for the Family, sponsored by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines on May 13, 2014 at the Diamond Hotel, Manila
Your Excellency, Bishop Jean Laffitte, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity; Your Excellency, Archbishop Guisseppe Pinto, the Papal Nuncio; Your Excellencies of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines; Your Honors of the Philippine officialdom led by Senate President Franklin M. Drilon and his charming wife Mila, and Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Jr.; Your Honor, Retired Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide Jr. and his lovely wife Gigi; Manila Mayor and former President Joseph Estrada; Reverend Fathers; Companeros and Companeras in the legal profession; Ladies and Gentlemen. Vice President Jejomar Binay sent his regrets due to a prior commitment he cannot cancel but he is ably represented by his daughter, Sen. Nancy Binay.
I thank our esteemed CBCP President, Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas, and our beloved and hard-working Over-all Coordinator of the Asian Conference on the Family, Ambassador Tita de Villa, for inviting me and my family to tonight’s dinner, to talk on how we have observed the Charter of Rights of the Family promulgated by the Holy See on October 22, 1983. Specially assigned to us is the tenet that “the family constitutes much more than a mere juridical, social and economic unit;” rather it is “a community of love and solidarity, which is uniquely suited to teach and transmit cultural, ethical, social, spiritual and religious values, essential for the development and well-being of its own members and society.”
My own personal story of faith is known to many of you in the audience. I have many times spoken and written of how our Lord has used my defeats and victories, my weaknesses and strengths to mould and transform me. Many of you already know how I rose
- from being a dirt poor, teary newsboy in the backstreets of Sampaloc, Manila to becoming president of the largest-circulated daily in our country;
- from being humiliated for my total ignorance of my Catholic religion, not knowing even the three persons of the Holy Trinity to passionately learning the depths of my faith and becoming a member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity in the Vatican;
- from being unable to enjoy a graduate scholarship in law granted by Yale University because of my inability to secure transportation money to the United States to being father of five wonderful children each of whom fulfilled my cherished academic dream, by finishing their masters or doctoral degrees from Harvard, Stanford, University of California, University of Chicago and University of Michigan;
- from failing to achieve my high school ambition of becoming a chemical engineer because I was directed by my strict father to take up law in a university I did not choose, to reaching quite unworthily but providentially the highest judicial position in our country.
And just when I thought that my professional career was over seven years ago when I reached the compulsory retirement age of 70 in the Supreme Court, and that therefore, I could at last rest, relax and smell the flowers, I began a new journey when I was invited to be an independent director or adviser of some of the biggest and finest listed corporations in the country. Yes, I came to realize that retirement really meant getting new tires for a new journey.
As I contemplate my life and move towards its sunset, I know that God has woven my many pains and gains, my frustrations and liberations, my sorrows and joys into a magnificent tapestry showing His mystical presence. Truly, there is one constancy in my whole unworthy life, the presence, care and providence of our Lord Jesus Christ. To Him I dedicate all that I was, all that I am, and all that I will ever be.
However, this tapestry of personal pains and gains would not be complete if it were sewn or drawn only for my own well-being and salvation. Indeed, the values and blessings brought by the Lord cannot be for me only. Not even for my wife and my children only. Indeed, they must extend to my grandchildren and great grandchildren-to-be.
But it is not for me to say what the young of my family imbibed from my journey with the Lord. I may have, with Lord’s blessings, achieved some success but unless this success, to paraphrase the Charter of the Rights of the Family, is imbibed by and transmitted to the young of my family, then I may have journeyed in vain.
Let me then ask the leader of the third generation of my family, our eldest grandchild, Jose Miguel Panganiban Sandejas, now 24 years old, to share his own unique experiences of how our Lord turned his pains into gains, and his frustrations into liberation, as he was orphaned by his father when he was barely two years old. His other grandparents, Lito and Nits Sandejas as well as some of his titos and titas have come here to listen to him. Unfortunately, his mother, my eldest daughter Maria Elena had to leave for San Francisco, California this morning on urgent business, and therefore cannot be with us.
Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Jose Miguel Panganiban Sandejas. (The following is his sharing)
“The first draft of this speech that I was supposed to present today was gently put down by my grandfather. He told me that the audience would be full of experienced professionals, wise and knowledgeable beyond their years and I could not lecture them hoping to impress them. He was right. What would a simple twenty four year old be able to teach this room full of accomplished people? In that moment, I knew that a job as a priest would not work. The Chief Justice had asked me to completely revise my homily. I guess I’ll have stick to my career as a banker, instead.
“But back to the question: Could I actually teach a room full of people about lessons on the family that they probably already know? The collected experiences of this room could probably fill a best-selling novel twenty times over. In the end, the best thing I can do today is not to try to teach but to actually share. So ladies and gentlemen, for the next five minutes, allow me to share part of my humble life with you in hopes that I can touch your minds and hearts with my experiences.
“The word family instantly spurs memories of faces in my head, as I’m sure it does yours. Magnificent and kind faces. It spurs memories of feelings so strong that I can almost relive them right now, from where I stand. Because where I stand is where they put me. And I am here today because of them and I will forever be grateful for that.
“The first memory I would like to share with you is that of my father. When I was very young, I remember sitting on that lap of Papa pretending to play driver as we entered the gate of my parent’s love nest in Alabang. They were newly married back then. I remember sitting on his lap and laughing as we honked the horn. The memories of my father, in my mind, abruptly stop there. This is because we lost Papa to a car accident when I was just two years old. From here, my life was populated by one of the most plaguing (and sometimes useless) questions in the English language – I started to ask “What if?”. What if I grew up with him by my side, would life be different? What if he were there during father’s day celebrations at school? What if he were there to see me graduate from the University of the Philippines? (which was also his alma mater) This is where the question “what if” becomes useless. There is never an answer to ‘what if’ questions like those. It is like talking to a closed door, shouting at it, aimlessly hoping for it open.
“The second memory I want to share with you is an eagle eye’s view of my family. I want to share with you how, unseemingly, God answered my questions. I want to share with you how God carried my mother and me through all of these years. Of course He would never abandon us. He would never abandon any of us. Had Papa been around, life would have been different. Mom always said that “When God closes doors, He opens new windows”. Little did I know, while I was shouting ‘what if’ at closed doors, blessings were pouring through the windows that God opened for us. These blessings flooded through the windows and rushed through every nook cranny that they could find. These blessings came in the form of my family.
“Papa’s absence at father’s day was filled by Tito Manu, Tito Paco and Lolo Lito. My graduation day was celebrated with many people who loved me. Family filled in the empty spaces that were left by loss. They uplifted us and kept us going even when we thought we could not. They rushed to Mom’s side when she stood there, broken by the death of her husband – my lolos and lolas, aunts and uncles both on the Sandejas and Panganiban sides – they helped her hold on to the pieces of her broken heart.
“My mom is my stronghold. She is the strongest root that keeps me grounded to what is good and rational. I admire her for keeping herself together through loss… for keeping herself together for me and raising me the way she did. Even if the world grieved with her, I cannot imagine what kind of pain she was put through. In my opinion, no one should ever be put through the pain of love and loss. However, the strength of a mother will forever be greater than any superpower that anyone can ever have.
“I’m sure that she asked her own ‘what ifs’ at that time in her life. God answered her ‘what ifs’ too. He gave her Alex, my stepfather. He helped her put the pieces of her heart back together. He offered his life and forever support to her in marriage. How many people are lucky enough to find true love twice in their life? He also gave her a second son, my brother, Rafa, of whom which is a Godsend, as well. Our family is complete again, even better and stronger than it used to be.
“The last thing I would like to share with you is what I have taken away from this experience… What I have taken away from life so far. In the absence of a father, I have realized the presence of many other prominent figures in my life.
- He gave me parents that raised me to the best of their abilities – role models in their own trials and triumphs.
- He gave me three sets of grandparents that serve as my models of perfect patriarchs and matriarchs. Pillars of love, support and family.
- He gave me aunts and uncles to be the older brothers and sisters that I never had. Sources of strength and inspiration at any given time.
- One day, I hope he will give me children that I can share everything I have learned from them. Children that will be blessed by the lessons and love that I have learned from them.
“There will always be what ifs. But suddenly, the answers to those ‘what ifs’ don’t seem so important anymore. God already answered them through my family.
“There are many times in our lives that we ask why God takes away. God was not selfish when he took Papa to Heaven; I believe that He handpicked Papa from His earthly garden because He needed him a bit earlier than planned. I was taught to accept this unconditionally.
“I realize now that life always goes on, even after death. God will always be there and He will always be there in the form of Family – in the form of Love – a love that is pure, honest and unfaltering.
“Family is the ultimate proof that God loves us and in the end, proof that everything will be okay.”