Ateneo Law Journal Honors CJ Teehankee

Remarks of retired Chief Justice ATEMIO V. PANGANIBAN, Vice-Chairman of the Claudio Teehankee Foundation, during the launching of the Special Edition of the Ateneo Law Review honoring the late Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee on his 100th birthday at the Ateneo de Manila on July 10, 2019.


A fascinating joke about forgetful octogenarians is circulating in social media. I thought I would share it with you today by way of warning those who asked me to deliver this address, not to repeat the same mistake of inviting an ancient speaker, like me, who relishes the joy of forgetfulness.

Here is the joke: One fine evening, a class reunion of 80 year-olds was held along with wine, laughter and song. Amid this little merriment, a mildly intoxicated widower romanced an equally tipsy widow, telling her, “Since we were classmates many decades ago, I have always loved you but I was so shy to tell you. However, after our spouses left us for the Great Beyond, and after drinking five glasses of red wine, I have now found the courage to say how much I missed you and would now want to marry you.” And the equally enlivened widow immediately replied, “Oh, I thought you would never ask. Of course, I will marry you.”

After that joyful reunion, all the happy oldsters went home. But on the next day, the now-little more sober widower – in the loneliness of his bedroom – could not remember what the answer of his beloved was. So, he dialed her land line and asked, “My dear, please forgive my little forgetfulness. I do not remember what your answer was to my marriage proposal. Was it a yes or a no?”

And the merry widow cheerfully responded, “Of course, my reply was a sweet yes! But let me also confess my own little forgetfulness. Sorry, I do not remember who proposed marriage to me.”

Well, we octogenarians are a happy lot because we can indeed get away with many things that you you, young people, cannot. You may want to know that when I was 20, 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 over 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.”

Nonetheless, in spite of those self-deprecating jokes about forgetful octogenarians, I recall with fondness the famous essay of Dr. Frank Laubach titled “Life Begins at 80” and I quote him: “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 percent 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.”

Ladies and gentlemen, before I am lulled into the sheer joy of forgetfulness, let me quickly go to the reason for my presence on the rostrum, which is to launch the Special Edition of the Ateneo Law Journal honoring the 100th birthday of the late Ateneo icon, the courageous national hero who is deservingly buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, the revered Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee. On behalf of the Claudio Teehankee Foundation, I would like to thank the publishers of the Journal, who are, to quote the Journal itself, “the students of the Ateneo de Manila School of Law.” I say “thank you” most specially to the Board of Editors who patiently and delightfully produced it in time for today’s celebration.

I must confess that the Ateneo Law Journal has a special place in my heart. In the recent past, I have been twice requested to write its Foreword, once by Lead Editor Jewelle Santos, who by the way, was a scholar of the Claudio Teehankee Foundation, and another by Lead Editor Angelo Herbosa. At both times, I can say without a bit of hesitation that I was completely satisfied by the diligence and intelligence shown by the editors and by the excellence of the final product they produced and printed.

On the other hand, in the present issue is published my extemporaneous speech during the Commemorative Program celebrating the 25th Death Anniversary of CJ Teehankee with some welcome additions by Issue Editor Jason Sy.

To be sure, I have great respect for the editors and writers of law journals in general. To me, to be an editor-in-chief, or even to be an issue editor, and/or writer of a well-research article in a credible law journal like Ateneo’s is like graduating with Latin honors, or placing in the Top Ten in the bar examinations. You might as well know early on that the best practicing lawyers are not the obnoxious loud-mouths we would rather not hear, not the irreverent charlatans who try to impress with highfalutin irrelevancies; they are the finest writers of letters, term sheets, memoranda of agreements, contracts, treaties, complaints, answers, motions, briefs, memoranda and memorials; and, the best jurists are the rippling authors of decisions and orders.

To top the bar exams, one needs to memorize and master definitions, differentiations, enumerations and quotations from the codes, special laws and Supreme Court decisions. The more one photographically remembers them, the more are the chances of passing, nay, of topping the bar exams. One of our bar reviewers many decades ago said it so picturesquely, “To top the bar exams, you must read and reread and reread the Constitution, the codes, the Rules of Court and all the damn statutes over and over, over and over till the words are erased from the pages.”

On the other hand, journal editors and writers are expected to analyze, criticize and improvise the law in elegant, persuasive and measured language. Instead of being mere legal robots who parrot laws and decisions word-for-word, and instead of relying on the technical texts, they look at the essence, the raison d’etre of the law.

And as they grow with the essence, they are transformed from being mere schemers and users of the text, the punctuation marks, and the grammar – yes, the technicalities – of the law to fix their clients’ private causes, to acquit them, to collect debts, to enforce contracts and, in general, to advance their private interests. Instead, they become critical thinkers and innovators who search and reach for the loftier purposes and intents of the Constitution and the statutes. They look at law as a brick in the building of the social edifice and as a means to advance the public welfare. Indeed, they metamorphose from being mere legal technicians to being social engineers who view the law not as an end by itself, but as an instrument in the building of a just society. They interpret the law no longer literally to serve commercial interests and private causes. They interpret it liberally to fulfill the ultimate ends of justice.

CJ Teehankee knew the technicalities of the law, its ramifications and limitations. After all, he graduated summa cum laude and topped the bar exams. But he was not just a legal technician repairing his clients’ wares. He was a social engineer who reached out to the stars to render justice via the all-encompassing rule of law.

And so it is with the Ateneo Law School which produces law scholars and bar exams topnotchers, who, in turn, rate the highest passing percentage, and who transcend legal technicalities to become engineers and builders of just societies.

To close these remarks, permit me to add quickly that in a another philanthropic undertaking similar to the Claudio Teehankee Foundation, we, in the Foundation for Liberty and Prosperity, realize that law students should not only to top their academic studies and the bar examinations, but should also be competent editors and writers, to transform them from being mere legal technicians who trouble shoot the rickety structures of their clients to being social engineers who construct durable and unbreakable institutions for the nation. That is why the FLP awards not only 20 law scholarships annually at P200,000 each and rewards honor graduates but also sponsors yearly dissertation writing contests with 25 prizes ranging from P20,000 to P300,000 to encourage well-written pieces composed mostly by critical, analytical, innovative and persuasive law journal editors and writers. If interested, please access the FLP website ( where the details of next school years’ contests will be announced in the next few days. You may be interested to know that Ateneo law students are always among the awardees and winners of these contests.

Maraming salamat po.

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