The Blessings and Foibles of Being 80

Closing Remarks delivered by retired Chief Justice ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN during the musicale, Ageless Passion, held on December 20, 2016 at the new Maybank Performing Arts Theater, 9th Avenue corner 26th Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.

May I introduce my family who are at the first level of the theater, my wife Leni, our children Len and Alex Yaptangco, our only son Archie, Celine and Patrick Hannett, Tet and Noy Manalac and Mabel Reagan, and our wonderful grandchildren, the joy of my old age, Miguel, Rafa, Patricia, Katrina, Victoria, Alexandra, Andrea and Nicole. I am sorry that Joseph and Matthew Reagan and their father, our son-in-law Pete Reagan, could not join us in person tonight but, from their home in New York City, they sent their greetings of unity with us.

Cardinal Tagle and President Ramos
Ladies and gentlemen, after that exhilarating, scintillating and stimulating musicale that merited your reverberating applause and standing ovation in this brand new Maybank Performing Arts Theater, mere words and platitudes are inadequate to express my appreciation and gratitude to all of you for honoring me with your presence.

Let me especially greet His Eminence, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle – the gentle Archbishop of Manila and Pope-in-waiting; yes, we all pray that our Lord will bless him to be the first Filipino and the first Asian to head the Catholic Church – for being so magnanimous in magnificently singing “The Prayer of St. Francis” as his invocation. I respectfully requested him to sing, not just to pray, his invocation. And he just did. I confess to have taken undue liberties with his kindness because at 59, he could easily have been our son. Had he not taken a vow to serve as a prince of the Church, I am sure he would been a brilliant star in the firmament of tenors in the likes of Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban. Palakpakan po nating muli si Cardinal Tagle.

May I also single out His Excellency, President Fidel V. Ramos (accompanied tonight by his wife Ming), who – as clearly depicted in the musicale – plucked me from anonymity and conscripted me, though thoroughly unworthy, to the highest court of the land. A few days ago, he sent me his latest book titled “2030 One World, One Community, One Family,” together with a letter greeting me with this roaring salutation, “Dear Tiger Chief Justice Art.” Wow, he really made my day calling me a “tiger” at 80. Perhaps, what he really meant was that I was a “harmless and toothless tiger.” Allow me to quote a sentence in his sagacious letter: “It is said that life begins at 40. Therefore, one who is fortunate enough to reach the age 80 may be said to be ‘born again’ in the eyes of the Good Lord and his fellow men.”

May I quickly reply that when I was 40, my favorite prayer was from Reinhold Niebuhr, who pleaded, “Lord, grant me the courage to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Now at 80, my prayer is “Lord, grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked, the good fortune to run into the people I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.”

Indeed, at 80, I recall with fondness the famous essay of Dr. Frank Laubach titled “Life Begins at 80” and I quote: “Once you reach 80, everyone wants to carry your baggage and help you up the steps. If you forget your name, or an appointment, or your own telephone number or can’t remember how many grandchildren you have—you only need to explain that you are 80. Being 80 is a lot better than being 70. At 70, people are mad at you for everything. At 80, you have a perfect excuse, no matter what you do. If you act foolishly, it’s your second childhood. Being 70 is no fun at all. At 70, they expect you to retire to a house in Florida and complain about your arthritis. And you ask everybody to stop mumbling because you can’t understand them. Actually, your hearing is about 50% gone. If you survive until you are 80, everybody is surprised that you are still alive. They treat you with respect just for having lived so long. Actually, they are surprised that you can walk and talk sensibly. So, please, folks, try to make it to 80. It’s the best time of life. If you ask me, life begins at 80.”

President Arroyo and Other Special Guests
Permit me also to specially greet President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (accompanied by her husband Atty. Jose Miguel), who is seated beside President Ramos. As also shown in the musicale, President Arroyo named me chief justice, the highest position within her power to grant. But what was not shown is that she did so without much ado, without speaking with me or interviewing me. The post became vacant on December 20, 2005 with the retirement of CJ Hilario G. Davide Jr. and she promptly chose me from a list of five nominees submitted by the Judicial and Bar Council. The following day, as I was delivering a speech in the ballroom of a five-star hotel, someone slipped a piece of paper to me saying, “I just heard over radio that you have been appointed Chief Justice by President Arroyo.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I immediately froze on the rostrum unable to continue my speech. Forthwith, I descended the stage, avoided the media reporters waiting to interview me, got into my car with Leni, proceeded to our parish church, and on bended knees, fervently thanked the Lord for His bountiful blessings.

My friends, let me now admit that today is not my exact birthday. My exact birthday was on December 7. Today is really the 11th anniversary of my appointment as chief justice by President Arroyo. May I just add that, despite the defeat of some of her initiatives in the Panganiban Court, she has remained cordial to me, such that even after I had retired, she occasionally invited me to Malacanang to break bread and to pick on my ancient brains on some vital state matters. I dare say that until now, as shown by her presence today, we remain friends and mutual firm believers in the vitality of our democracy, the supremacy of the rule of law, and the wisdom of checks and balances. Maraming salamat po Madam President.

Let me also greet Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno and the other members of the Supreme Court (I see Justices Carpio, Velasco, Del Castillo, Bernabe) and the justices and judges of the other courts, both incumbent and retired; Ombudsman and retired Justice Conchita Carpio Morales was with us earlier but had to rush out to catch up with her own office Christmas party. Executive Secretary Salvador “Bingbong” Medialdea (and his wife) and some members of the Cabinet confirmed their attendance. Unfortunately, the Cabinet members, together with President Duterte, are holding their Cabinet Christmas Party tonight in Malacanang and thus could no longer come here. I say thank you also to my close friend and golf buddy Ave Cruz, the president of the Asean Law Association and chairman of the San Beda Law Alumni Association, the favorite recruitment agency of President Duterte.

Magandang gabi po to Your Excellencies of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps, and to the distinguished “who’s who” of the business community. I see Tessie Sy Coson, the chair of BDO, our biggest bank, and a top boss of the SM Group, the largest Philippine business conglomerate; Manny Pangilinan of First Pacific, PLDT, Meralco and Metro Pacific; Dr. Lucio Tan and his wife Dona Carmen; the inseparable brothers Jaime Augusto and Fernando Zobel de Ayala, with his wife Kitkat, of the oldest and most revered business behemoth in the country, the Ayala Corporation; Ramon Ang of San Miguel and Petron; Arthur Ty, chairman of the second biggest bank, Metrobank, and his equally industrious brother Alfred with his wife Cherry; Henry Gozon of GMA Network; Ramon Del Rosario Jr. with his wife Marivic, of Phinma; Edgar “Injap” Sia of Double Dragon; Ato Tanmantiong of Jollibee; Nedy Tantoco of Rustan; John Alcordo and the other big bosses of TeaM Energy; and of course, the venerable Washington Sycip, the “youngest” person in this theater tonight. Oh, yes, as you may have noticed, we are fortunate to have, as special guests, the chairpersons of the three largest banks in the country, BDO, Metrobank and BPI.

Producers, Directors and Talents
After greeting our special guests, let me now thank the diligent people who made possible this grand musicale, Ageless Passion. First, I thank Ryan Cayabyab, probably the greatest living Filipino composer, for magically creating the 18 beautiful songs immortalized tonight. Then, I thank Kristian Jeff Agustin for crafting the lyrics. Jeff used to work as a creative artist in my chambers as chief justice but has gone private and finished his Master’s Degree in Visual Arts on a scholarship from the University of Westminster in London; he is now completing his PhD. Permit me also to say “Thank you” to our indefatigable producer, Donna May Lina and her staff at Ube Media, and our production manager Dodo Lim, for their dogged determination and hard work in putting together the cast and in attending to all the details of producing the entire show; to our ever reliable director Bart Guingona, for training, teaching and directing the musicale from its inception to its end; to Jeffrey Solares for arranging the Cayabyab creations into masterpieces of the Manila Symphony Orchestra; to Maestro Arturo Molina, for flawlessly conducting the MSO; to the talented actors Michael Williams, Cris Villonco, Lyn Sherman, Topper Fabregas, Red Nuestro and the rest of the cast for their virtuoso performances, and to my good friend and “sousai” Eddie Yap, the hidden impresario who in many ways known only to me and to Ryan Cayabyab silently helped make this musicale a reality. I believe that what they all staged tonight would in time, yes, in time, be comparable to the greats of the theater world, like Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof and Phantom of the Opera.

May I also say Maraming, maraming salamat po to my dear friend Henry Gozon and the GMA Network for the comprehensive TV coverage of our musicale, which will soon be aired as a special telecast at the Kapuso Network, Channels 7 and 11.

May I also take this grand opportunity to say “Thank you” to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, to Marixi and Alex Prieto and to JV Rufino for publishing a brand new book in my honor, which just came off the press, titled “With Due Respect 2.” This is a collection of my Sunday columns, selected and edited by the Inquirer staff, to produce a new tome; it is like sewing the threads of various ideas to create a new tapestry, or like putting together fabrics of various hues to produce a fabulous new evening gown. The book will be formally launched soon. However, each of you will get a complimentary copy tonight, ahead of its formal launch, as you go out of this theater. Let us clap our hands to thank Marixi and Alex for this rare gift.

Actually, I feel a little awkward that this wonderful musicale, Cardinal Tagle’s incomparable invocation, the upcoming TV broadcast and the new book are undertaken during my lifetime. They are probably more fitting memorials for a dead person, to be held during a neurological service or a requiem or a death anniversary. But what can I really do, except to humbly say Maraming salamat po for the undeserved honor.

Still Healthy at 80
After greeting our special guests and thanking our benefactors, let me say a few words about being 80. Many are wondering how at this age I could still serve as a director or adviser in more than a dozen huge corporations and in more than half a dozen foundations, with almost a hundred percent attendance in all meetings and activities; how I could travel abroad about six times a year; wallop tennis and golf balls four times a week, work out in the gym thrice a week, and swing, boogie and tango occasionally.

On a purely human level, I find the answer in the words of that famous American general who could not fade away, even if he wanted to. I refer of course to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who – borrowing from Samuel Ullman’s poem “Youth” – said:

“Youth is not entirely a time of life; it is a state of mind. It is not wholly a matter of ripe cheeks, red lips or supple knees. It is a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the springs of life.

“Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years. People grow old only by deserting their ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up interest wrinkles the soul. Worry, doubt, self-distrust, fear and despair – these are the long, long years that bow the head and turn the growing spirit back to dust.

“You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fears, as young as your hope, as old as your despair. In the central place of your heart, there is a recording chamber; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer and courage, so long are you young. When the wires are all down and your heart is covered with the snow of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then – and then only – are you grown old.”

Those are powerful and compelling words from an icon of a courageous generation. In all my 80 years, I have tried to live by them. But no one can really copy exactly another person life, or live completely a hero’s ideals.

My own journey of life is much humbler and plainer than that of this legendary general. As I look back at my 80 years, I always find myself journeying with the simple farmer who prefaced our musicale. I identify with the good luck and the bad luck, the good news and the bad news that buffeted him. Like him, I have always trusted in the majesty and generosity of our God because in the totality of my journey, this one great, super Being always intervenes and makes His presence known. Yes, despite my occasional shortcomings and failures, disabilities and diseases, our Almighty God has been ever faithful to me in all my 80 years of temporary sojourn on earth. He has never failed to grant me all that is good and beautiful in His own way, in His own time.

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

“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, a loving wife, 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 miraculously recovered from premature death as a six-year old during World War II to face you tonight as a recycled octogenarian still walloping golf and tennis balls, and swaying and dancing occasionally; journeyed as a poor newsboy in the backstreets of Sampaloc to the presidency of the most widely read broadsheet in our country; as a fumbling and ignorant Catholic to a member of the highest lay council of the Catholic Church in the Vatican; as 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; as a lowly bootblack to being welcomed in the board rooms of the largest blue chips in our country; as 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 unworthy 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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