Fifty Years of Service Above Self

Address delivered by retired Chief Justice ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN as Guest of Honor and Speaker during the 50th Induction Ball of the Rotary Club of Makati held on July 17, 2015 at the Rigodon Ballroom of the Peninsula Manila Hotel, Makati City.

At the outset, let me congratulate the Rotary Club of Makati. the first and largest rotary club in the financial center of our country, for celebrating its 50 years of “Service Above Self.” It is common knowledge that Makati Rotarians and their lovely and helpful Anns have been outstanding exemplars in upholding the “Four-Way Test of Rotary” and in serving the least, the last and the lost.

Retired from Public Life
My special felicitations go to your new leadership team headed by President Eddie Yap. With him at the helm, I have no doubt that your club will “Be a Gift to the World,” as the Rotary international theme for this year proclaims. In fact, I dare say that your Club will shine brightly, not just like any ordinary gift to the world, but like a brilliant golden star in the firmament of the Rotary universe.

When I received President Eddie’s letter inviting me to be your Guest of Honor and Speaker, my first reaction was to respectfully decline. I already retired from active public life and from the judiciary eight and half years ago, and I prefer to keep a low profile. I have respectfully declined many invitations for TV and radio interviews, convocations, lectures and other public appearances.

As much as possible, I would rather shy away from the public radar. I prefer to concentrate on my work as an independent director in publicly listed companies, and as an officer or adviser of and worker in charitable foundations and religious groups. I have even retired from the Rotary Club of Manila and from being a Special Minister of Holy Communion in my parish. However, after the persuasive President Eddie spoke with me, I reconsidered and accepted his kind invitation, for two reasons.

President Eddie’s 8Gs.
First, I have a very high esteem for Eddie. He has already served as your president once before, and despite the general rule that every Rotarian serves only once as a Club President, he has been prevailed upon to serve again as your president during your 50th year. Serving as president means taking leave from one’s normal business and professional work, and devoting most of one’s time and talent to planning and delivering memorable projects. As a friend, I want to encourage and cheer him all the way in serving all of you, my dear Rotary friends.

In my Foreword to his eminent book, “Stirred, Not Shaken,” which was launched on October 13, last year to highlight his 70th birthday, I began by describing him as “an impresario, art connoisseur, sous-chef, civic leader and bon vivant masquerading as a financial wizard, real estate specialist, executive nonpareil, stock market hotshot, budget expert and even a level-headed constitutionalist. The good news is that he is all these pursuits. And the better news is that he is a master of all of them. Indeed, he is not a jack of trades; he is a master of all.”

And after parsing the contents of his book showing why he is a master of all these grand pursuits, I ended my Foreword with this summary: “Yes, Eddie has 6Gs – gift of gab (both written and verbal), gift of giving (of himself and of his possessions to his favorite charities and civic causes) and gift of genius (manifested both in his persona and in his writing.)”

Today, I should add two more Gs to his existing 6, and these are: gift of gold, for being your Golden President who will surely deliver the Gold in all the endeavors of your Golden Club during its Golden Year. Truly, his 8Gs make him an eternal Rotarian and ever-loyal friend.

Grateful to Rotary
My second reason for accepting the invitation to be your Guest of Honor and Speaker today is to tell you how grateful I am at having been given the opportunity to serve as President of the Rotary Club of Manila 25 years ago in 1990-1991. Aside from the satisfaction of having contributed my humble share in “serving above self,” let me tell you that it was Rotary that enabled me to enter the exalted and forbidding door of the Supreme Court. Let me explain.

On June 17, 1992, one year after my Rotary presidency, then President-elect Fidel V. Ramos, who was also a member of Manila Rotary, personally invited me to join his Cabinet as Secretary of Justice. While profuse with appreciation for his kind offer, I explained to him that I was unworthy of his generosity, because I had not campaigned for him during his presidential bid. I added that, in my humble view, only those who belonged to his political circle should be members of his official family.

Besides, I explained that my dear wife did not want me involved in any political office. When we got married, she told me that I could be anything except a politician. And being a Cabinet member opens the door to being a politician, at least to opening the door to being an elected official later on.

President Ramos replied, “I know you did not campaign for me. You did not even vote for me. You voted for your mentor, Jovy Salonga. But that is alright. What matters is I know you to be competent, honest and honorable.” He said emphatically and most assuredly that he had observed me closely during my Rotary presidency, and stressed that he was impressed that, along with my inaugural speech, I had produced and distributed, a printed workbook showing my vision, mission, values, projects and work plan to achieve those projects.

My work plan was accompanied by a week-to-week time line for all committees and for the entire club for the entire 52 weeks of my presidency. He likewise recalled that at the end of my term, during my valedictory, I humbly reported on the accomplishments we all collectively attained in pursuit of the work plan and time table.

Love your Rotary seatmate
During our hour-long private one-on-one, President Ramos also repeatedly recalled our conversations as seatmates during our many Rotary years prior to my presidency about the role of law in bringing about good government. Finally, after being convinced of my desire to be excused from serving the political arm of government, he offered me a seat as associate justice in the Supreme Court, an offer I could not resist, because it was non-political and non-partisan.

My point is that I could not have become Chief Justice in 2005 had President Ramos not named me associate justice earlier on in 1995, thereby allowing me to mature and gain seniority in the Court. And most importantly, I would not have reached the Court at all, were it not for my association with then Gen. Fidel V. Ramos in the Rotary Club of Manila. Indeed, our active participation in Rotary activities gave him a wide window to assess my capability to render public service.

The moral lesson here is this: love your seatmate during Rotary meetings. He may just change your career, as Rotarian Eddie Ramos did to the career of Rotarian Art Panganiban. Who knows, Eddie Yap may turn out to be the Eddie Ramos in the life of every Makati Rotarian!

50th Anniversary Project
Now, let me discuss the gold project of the Rotary Club of Makati. As we all know, our Rotary is a civic club for others; it is an organization dedicated to the service of humanity as proclaimed in our motto of Service Above Self. And for this year, the international theme is “Be a Gift to the World.” President Eddie Yap advised me that after a long meditation and reflection, he has decided to adopt an Air Quality Monitoring and Reporting System as the “Milestone 50th Anniversary Project” of the Rotary Club of Makati.

He envisions the setting up of a pilot Air Quality Monitoring System (AQMS) covering Metro Manila by installing air quality analyzers at five strategically and geographically dispersed locations to measure air quality and to transmit to participating partners the air quality index on a daily basis at designated times. The recipients shall include tri-media and other project partners like schools, hospitals and LED billboards operators.

This project will safeguard public health by serving as a warning system for medically vulnerable persons. It will also protect the environment for benefit of all residents and visitors of Metro Manila. I congratulate President Eddie and the Rotary Club of Makati for initiating this long overdue project.

I noted that the pilot project will cost P600,000. I estimate that the project to cover the entire country will cost, at most, ten times this, or P6 million. This is certainly within the capacity of this Club to support and implement the project. If all the 120 members of the first and largest Rotary Club in the financial center of the country would contribute an average of P50,000 each, the total project cost of P6 million would be easily covered.

And so that my endorsement will not be only lip service to your laudable project, let me have the honor of contributing the first P50,000 today with this check. May I request President Eddie to come near the rostrum as I hand over my check of P50,000 to him.

Friends, Rotarians, countrymen, during my presidency of the Rotary Club of Manila twenty-five years ago, the Rotary International theme was “Preserve Planet Earth.” This shows that Rotary was a pioneer in protecting the environment a long time ago. Your 50th anniversary project comes as fitting a silver anniversary celebration of Rotary International’s theme 25 years ago during my Club presidency. It is likewise a proper commemoration of Pope Francis’ much-talked about encyclical, “Laudato Si.”

As I close, permit me to go back to the beginning of my speech. I said earlier that the Rotary Club of Makati is known for its charity work for the poor, for the least, the lost and the last. But now, in celebrating its 50th anniversary, RC Makati is inaugurating a project that goes beyond its work for the poor. It has upgraded its program to serve everyone. Yes, everyone, whether rich or poor, whether young or old, whether citizen or foreigner. It simply calls on everyone to come to Rotary to improve the well-being of the world. Truly, your 50th anniversary project is a call for life, a call for life worth living on Planet Earth.

Maraming salamat po.

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