So Unworthy and So Humbled, Yet So Honored and So Blessed

Remarks delivered by retired Chief Justice ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN at the end of the Eucharistic Celebration presided by His Eminence, Jose F. Cardinal Advincula, to mark the Diamond Wedding (61st) Anniversary of the Chief Justice and his wife, Professor Elenita “Leni” Carpio-Panganiban on July 7, 2022 at the Chapel of the Carmelite Missionaries Center of Spirituality in Tagaytay City.  

Your Eminence, Your Excellencies, Friends, My Brothers and Sisters in Christ.

Before I begin my message, permit me to acknowledge our two special guests, Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo and Mrs. Tessie Sy Coson; I invited CJ Alex because he is the incumbent head of my official family, the Supreme Court and the Philippine judiciary; as an aside may I say that when I was still the incumbent chief justice, CJ Alex and his family went to my Chamber in January 2006 to ask me to swear him to office as a new Sandiganbayan justice. After I swore him in, he looked for a space to sign his oath of office. Right there and then, intuitively, I asked him to sit on my chair and told him, “Please sit on my chair because one day you will be sitting there anyway as chief justice.” I had no intention of joking him; I was quite serious. I must have been led by the Holy Spirit to utter those prophesying words without really knowing they will one day be fulfilled. I also invited Tessie because we have known each other for over 50 years since 1968 when she was my student in commercial law at the Assumption Convent in Makati. So, I thought she might be interested to know what had happened to her humble professor after half a century. Was he better or worse as a human and as a creature of God? Let us hear her answer later tonight during our dinner.

Thank You to Four Special People

Friends, My Brothers and Sisters in Christ. On behalf of Leni, my wife of 61years, and of my family, let me begin this message by sincerely thanking four very special people led by His Eminence, Jose F. Cardinal Advincula for presiding over this Eucharistic Celebration and Renewal of Marriage Vows; His Excellency, Archbishop Socrates Villegas for his touching homily; His Excellency, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines for allowing us to disturb the program of the CBCP’s Annual Plenary Assembly; and Sister Marigold Magbanua, Local Superior of the Carmelites in Tagaytay for enabling us to celebrate our Diamond Wedding Anniversary in this beautiful and serene Chapel. In thanksgiving, please allow me to hand over four envelopes to them, each of which contains P50,000 representing my family’s humble tithe and token of appreciation.  

My wife and I are indeed fortunate to be prayed over by all the archbishops and bishops of our country. We feel so unworthy and so humbled and at the same time so honored and so blessed. I do not know of any couple who has been so chosen by our Lord to be the vessel of His love that was poured so generously by our dear shepherds.

Journey of Faith

Please allow me to talk a little of my journey of faith with our Lord Jesus and with his Immaculate Mother. I was born of impoverished, unchurched and uncatechized parents. My father finished only high school while my mother finished only elementary school. In the remote barrio of Mandili, Candaba, Pampanga where they were born, there was no church, no chapel, no priest. But after they eloped and got married, my father brought his wife to Manila and got employed as a clerk in the old Bureau of Lands. As the youngest of four siblings and as an elementary and high school student, I had to hawk newspapers, shine shoes, and peddle cigarettes in the streets of Sampaloc, Manila to help our family meet its needs. When I was in college, I sold bibles to my professors and textbooks to my classmates. Like my parents, I too was unchurched and uncatechized. I was a Catholic ignoramus.

Mother of Perpetual Help

My first real encounter with Catholic liturgy was not with the Holy Mass but with a weekly Novena to our Lady of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, Paranaque where my father brought me. Up to now, I still remember and treasure the songs we sung during our Novena especially “Immaculate Mother” which was rendered so beautifully by the Manila Cathedral choir a few minutes ago. To be truthful, I did not like the Holy Mass at that time because I did not understand the Latin mumbled by the celebrating priests who faced the altar with their backs on the faithful instead of the present practice introduced by Vatican II where the priests face the people and hold masses in English, in Tagalog or in the local dialects.

Sometime in 1947, my father purchased a framed picture of our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran and brought it to our small rented intresuelo in Cataluna Street, Sampaloc, Manila. I did not know that after his death in 1953, the framed image was brought to Canada in 1973 by my elder brother Nardo when his family migrated there. Prior to his own death two years ago, my brother instructed his daughter Pedget to airfreight the image to me. Leni and I brought that 75-year old framed image here [Lift an show the framed image]. I hope that after I pass from this earth, my children will take care of it as a memento of our family’s devotion to our dear Lady.

Fast forward to the late 1950s during my law studies and my incumbency as co-founder and president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines, as well as president of the FEU Central Student Organization and of the FEU Student Catholic Action. In those capacities, I helped in a very modest way in building the FEU Chapel which – I now discovered – is dedicated to our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. The then chaplain of the FEU, Fr. Michael Nolan, took a liking for me and taught me four prayers, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be and the nondenominational FEU Prayer. Indeed, I memorized those basic prayers for the first time when I was already studying law.

Courtship and Marriage

Because of my extra-curricular activities, especially in the National Union of Students, I met the sweet and intelligent Leni Carpio who was representing St. Scholastica’s College in the NUS. After many months of courtship, I was able to win her heart. But her magical “Yes” was conditional; she required me to go to confession with her once a month at the old Ateneo Chapel in Padre Faura, Manila, to attend Mass and take communion with her every Sunday in her family’s parish church in Cubao, Quezon City which was, and is still dedicated to the Immaculate Conception.

Though Leni’s parents welcomed me, the St. Scholastica Sisters frowned on our relationship because Leni was – until she met me – bent on entering the Convent as a novice. Even the late Fr. Anselmo Bustos, the parish priest of the Immaculate Conception Church refused to preside over our marital vows and delegated the task to his assistant parish priest for the same reason that he did not want the prospective novice to marry this poor, unchurched and uncatechized activist from a nonsectarian university. Anyway, we were married 61 years ago on April 8, 1961 with, I now realize, the silent, nonintrusive intervention of our Lady.

Fast forward to 1986, Leni and I attended the Marriage Encounter (ME) and, later on, the life-changing Life in the Spirit Seminar (LSS) where our Ninang Bai De Los Reyes, and her husband Sonny, now deceased, were our patient and caring shepherds. Unfortunately, our Ninang Bai cannot be with us tonight because she was exposed to her granddaughter who was stricken by the Covid virus.

In the ME, I was convinced that it was the Lord who brought Leni and me together – to love each other forever – despite our social, cultural, religious and economic gaps. While the ME was more cerebral and mental, the LSS was spiritual and soul-piercing. In the darkened LSS seminar hall, I closed my eyes but saw a clear vision of our risen Christ calling me as the choir sung, “Here I Am Lord.” And right there and then, I felt spiritual tongues of fire burning my sins and transforming me into a new creation in the love and image of our Lord. And so, I unconditionally answered, “Yes, Lord, Here I Am Lord, I will do whatever pleases you.”

I hungered for more from our Lord. I wanted to know Him better. I wanted to be immersed in His love and teachings. And that’s when Leni and I met Monsignor Gerry Santos, who was then a new priest. In simple and well-organized fashion, he taught me basic catechism, biblical stories and the Papal Encyclicals. I read over 100 books on the Christian religion, mostly Catholic and some Protestant, like the 16 volumes of William Barclay’s “The Daily Study Bible.”

Catholic Lay Leadership

In several fora and seminars, I shared my experiences on how the Lord has touched and transformed me. After listening to me in one such program at the auditorium of the Colegio de San Agustin in Dasmarinas Village, Makati, our Ninang Tita de Villa, who unfortunately cannot join us tonight due a sudden illness, took me under her tutelage, got me involved in the Council of the Laity of the Philippines, the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, the Pontifical Council for the Laity in the Vatican and, finally, the Metropolitan Manila Cathedral-Basilica Foundation which raised funds for and superintended the retrofitting, strengthening, air-conditioning and interior restoration and redecoration of the Manila Cathedral. Yes, it is not accidental that our dear, dear Lady is venerated in the main altar of the Manila Cathedral, like she was so venerated, without my conscious knowledge, during our Baclaran Novena, during my simple prayers at the FEU Chapel, and during our wedding at the Cubao Church which is now also a cathedral!

And when I got into the Supreme Court, our Ninong Soc Villegas – as the then secretary of the late Jaime Cardinal Sin – and I shared some private and confidential dalliances between the Archdiocese of Manila and the Roman Curia in the Vatican, as well as between the late Cardinal and the EDSA People Power II. Moreover, as a bishop and an archbishop, he presided over many religious functions in the Court, capped by his memorable Mass when I retired as Chief Justice on December 6, 2006. Indeed, he was the cherished chaplain of the Supreme Court during my term.

Truly, our four important guests, Cardinal Advincula, Archbishop Villegas, Bishop David and Sister Marigold, and our four wedding sponsors, Archbishop Soc, Msgr. Gerry, Ambassador Tita and our Shepherd Bai brought us closer to our Lord Jesus and to His Mother Mary, the Immaculate Conception and the Mother of Perpetual Help. And to stress again, Leni and I feel so unworthy and so humbled, yet so honored and so blessed today, as we celebrate our Diamond Wedding Anniversary exclusively with Your Excellencies. Please accept our everlasting thanks.

——    ——   —–

(This latter part of CJ Panganiban’s speech was delivered at the conclusion of the Dinner/Reception that followed after the Eucharist was celebrated at the Carmelite Chapel. The dinner was held at the China Palace Restaurant in the Tagaytay Highlands where only the CBCP members, the wedding sponsors and the Chief Justice’s immediate family were invited and were present.)

Before we end our dinner tonight, let me thank Marilen, our eldest daughter, for her toast to her Mom and Dad. I hope she and our four other children, Archie, Celine, Tet and Mabel as well as our ten grandchildren and future great grandchildren will perpetually continue our devotion to our Lord Jesus, to the Holy Trinity, to our Lady and to our Church. Let me further take this occasion to thank again the CBCP as well as its president, Bishop Ambo David; its secretary general, Msgr. Bernardo Pantin; and also, Fr. Regie Malicdem, the talented pastor of the Manila Cathedral, who kindly acted as our liturgist; the Manila Cathedral Choir; and the CBCP Staff for their invaluable help in celebrating our Diamond Wedding Anniversary. Palakpakan po natin sila.

In my remarks at the conclusion of the Eucharistic Celebration at the Carmelite Chapel, I narrated my journey as a Catholic ignoramus, and why I have become, unconsciously and unknowingly, a devotee of our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and of our Mother of Perpetual Help, why I am convinced she was present in all the major events of my humble life, and why we chose our Ninongs and Ninangs. What about the CBCP, why is it extra special in my spiritual journey and judicial career?

Encounter During My Spiritual Journey

Well, my first major encounter with Your Excellencies was during the daily sessions of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines for over a month in 1991 where I had the opportunity to converse at length with, and to learn from, many of you and your predecessors led by the then CBCP President, the late Archbishop Leonardo Legaspi, OP.

My second encounter with Your Excellencies was when I was invited by Ambassador Tita to join the PPCRV as its National Vice President and Chief Legal Counsel. I had the rare opportunity to visit several dioceses and parishes in many parts of our country where you hosted me. More importantly, despite my activist streak, the CBCP leadership recommended me to take over Ninang Tita’s membership in the Pontifical Council for the Laity, after she was named ambassador to the Vatican by President Fidel V. Ramos. On the basis of that recommendation and the personal appeal of the late Jaime Cardinal Sin, I was named the only Filipino member of the Council to serve a six-year term in 1996 to 2002 concurrently with my Supreme Court stint, the first and only incumbent justice or judge so privileged. There, I had the opportunity to meet the late Pope John Paul II several times during our regular Council meetings every October.

CBCP Helped During My Judicial Career

How about my judicial career? How did Your Excellencies help me? In June, 1992, after Fidel V. Ramos, a Protestant, won the presidential count, Ninang Tita hosted a dinner in her home. She invited the new President and the CBCP members. Wanting help from Catholic lay leaders in running his government, President Ramos asked Tita and me to join his Cabinet. In my case, he offered me to be secretary of justice. Before accepting his offer, I consulted the CBCP leaders who were also the spiritual advisers of the PPCRV. They were split on their advice. One group led by Archbishop Legaspi advised me to decline, saying that my acceptance may be misinterpreted to mean that the PPCRV was not, after all, politically neutral as the Comelec’s citizen’s arm and that it was secretly working for erstwhile presidential candidate Ramos. Such misinterpretation would reflect badly on both the PPCRV and the Church. On the other hand, the other group led by Bishop Ted Bacani advised me to accept because it would be one good way to show the new Protestant president that the Catholic laity was ready to help him achieve his announced goals to promote our people’s welfare, and on the side, to oppose any possible anti-Catholic initiatives by Protestants. In the end, both groups said the decision should ultimately be mine. To break the deadlock, I consulted my ultimate boss, my dear wife Leni. Her answer was simple. She said, “We already agreed when we got married many years ago that you can be anything, anything at all, except a politician because I cannot play the role of a politician’s wife.”

And so, I got back to President Ramos to tell him that I was respectfully declining his kind, unsolicited offer. I explained that while my esteemed bishops were split, my dear wife was absolutely against. The President smiled amusingly and told me, “Under the saya ka pala… Dalawa na tayo. Pero, please help me just the same by joining the Supreme Court.” That position I could not refuse because it is non-political and nonpartisan. That, in short, is how I got to the highest court of our land directly without having to climb the judicial ladder.

Truly, I owe the CBCP and its esteemed members my spiritual journey and my judicial career. You were used by the Holy Spirit to complete my humble being as a child of our Father in heaven, as a brother of our Lord Jesus Christ and as a worker of the Holy Spirit in the vineyard of our Triune God. How about my business career? How did our Lady guide me? How did the CBCP help me? Ah, the answers would require another speech which I will spare you today. Perhaps, some other day, I will bore you with another lousy address.

To close for now, may I respectfully hope that today’s dinner will be the beginning of a new tradition where my family and I will host the CBCP for dinner during your future Annual Plenary Assemblies. Mabuhay at maraming salamat po. 

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