May I thank all of your today for gracing this formal launching of my book, “With Due Respect,” published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer. May I especially thank the four gentlemen who not only honored me with their presence but who also spoke generous words of encouragement. Let me acknowledge them in the order they spoke.
From the Legal and Judicial World
First, let me say “Maraming salamat po” to de campanilla lawyer Avelino V. Cruz, chairman of the famous ACCRA Law Office, one of the largest law firms in our country, and president of the Philippine chapter of the Asean Law Association or ALA. My close friend for almost half a century, Ave has honored me in many ways, including electing me as an honorary member of the San Beda Law Alumni Association. A quarter century ago, in 1986, Ave was offered a seat in the Supreme Court by then President Corazon C. Aquino.
However, he respectfully declined it, preferring to remain as Deputy Prime Minister to then Vice President and Prime Minister Salvador Laurel. If you will remember, at that time, the Aquino government inherited a semi-parliamentary system from former President Ferdinand Marcos. However, the new 1987 Constitution junked the parliamentary system and reverted to the presidential system, thereby abolishing the positions of Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.
Had Ave accepted President Cory Aquino’s offer, he could have been chief justice of our country ahead of Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide Jr. and me. And because he is younger than both of us, he would have occupied that position up to last year, thereby eliminating us (and also Chief Justices Reynato S. Puno and Renato C. Corona) from occupying that august office. Indeed, in more ways that I can imagine, I owe Ave many things, not only for his generous words today but also for the rare chance to be the chief magistrate of this country.
Second, may I express my deep appreciation to Chief Justice Davide, my esteemed predecessor as the highest magistrate of our country. He gave me the opportunity to learn the labyrinths of that position by naming me chairman of the committee in charge of the judicial reform program of the Supreme Court. Among all jurists, he probably has the most well rounded government background, because he occupied key positions in all branches of our government. He was a legislator, constitution maker, Comelec chair, ambassador to the United Nations and, of course, chief justice.
Chosen as “Person of the Year” by the Inquirer, and a “Ramon Magsaysay Awardee,” he is the only chief justice in history to preside over the impeachment trial of a sitting president. At one time, he was the most trusted Filipino in the poll surveys of both the SWS and Pulse Asia.
From the Corporate and Business World
I am deeply honored at the words of wisdom of the esteemed immediate past president of the Banker Association of the Philippines, Aurelio R. Montinola III. As an independent director of the Bank of the Philippines Islands, of which he is the president and chief executive officer, I have a rare ringside view of world-class banking, as I observe him competently lead the oldest, most respected and most profitable bank in the country. Indeed, Gigi – as his friends fondly call him – is the bankers’ banker, the exemplar of his exacting profession.
May I also proudly proclaim that he is the Vice Chairman of the Far Eastern University, my beloved alma mater, and the best institution of learning in the country, according to the Far Eastern University Alumni Association.
I say a special “Maraming salamat po” to our fourth speaker, business legend Washington SyCip, the founder and guiding light of the largest accounting firm in the country and in Southeast Asia, Sycip Gorres and Velayo or SGV. At 91 years, Wash is still robust physically and intellectually. In fact, he is evergreen, not only in the eyes of the ladies who admire his terpsichorean agility and avant-garde fashion sense but also in being a perfect gentleman and shining knight. Brilliant and upright, he speaks in cadenced phrases, choosing his words carefully and surely and separating the imperative from the ordinary. Truly great but always humble, he calls himself in his biography as “Only a Bookkeeper.”
Having already attended to higher education by organizing and guiding the Asian Institute of Management, he is now passionately devoting his time and resources to the elevation of basic education, especially in the public schools. After all, he is a product of the public school system, the Mapa High School from which I am happy to say, I also graduated. He is my business icon and model. I always listen to him in rapt attention whenever he speaks in the listed corporation we sit together as independent director or adviser, like PLDT, Metro Pacific Investments, First Philippine Holdings, Metrobank, Jollibee and Asian Terminals.
Ladies and gentlemen, may I ask you to put your hands together as we thank our four special guests today, Atty. Ave Cruz, Chief Justice Jun Davide, Banker Gigi Montinola and business legend Wash SyCip.
Celebrating My 75th Birthday
My friends, after I retired from the Supreme Court more than five years ago on December 6, 2006, I thought my professional work and writing days were over and that I would spend the rest of my life tending to and caring for my ten wonderful grandchildren, who – as all senior citizens like me will attest – are the real joys of old age.
However, a few days after my retirement, Mrs. Marixi Rufino-Prieto, the chair of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, invited me to a new writing career, suggesting I should write a column three times a week. Having retired from active writing and looking forward to a more relaxed load after continuously working since I was ten years old – as a newsboy, bootblack and cigarette vendor in the back streets of Sampaloc, Manila where I grew up after World War II – I thought I was qualified to write only once a week, that is, every Sunday.
Then, last year, Marixi advised me that InqBooks, a sister company of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, would publish my selected columns in book form. She added that this was also the Prieto family’s way of celebrating my 75th birthday. For the book’s content, she asked my fellow columnist John Nery to look over and select from my columns for the years 2007 to 2010.
Thus, in between his graduate studies at Harvard, John Nery (who incidentally was a classmate in Ateneo de Manila University of our only son Archie) took precious time out and synthesized my columns by topic and thereby ushered a new creation.
As I said on another occasion, this was like creating a lovely new evening dress by sewing together several fabrics of different hues, or like building a new house by putting together lumber, cement and stone, or producing a new specialty by stewing various meats and vegetables.
The book was finally put together late last year and made immediately accessible in digital form via Amazon, Apple’s iBook Store, Apple’s iTunes and Barnes & Noble Nook. On February 11, 2012, I was amazed to receive a text from Inquirer President Sandy Prieto-Romualdez that my book was number three in the Amazon best seller list for the courts category, outranked only by the latest works of veteran book writer and Time correspondent Jeffrey Toobin and US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Tribute to Gani
Before I end, let me say a few words about Inquirer Publisher Isagani Yambot who wrote the Foreword of the book but who recently and quite unexpectedly passed to the Great Beyond. I met him three decades ago when I was still a practising lawyer. He taught me how to write simply but effectively by using plain English, with as little legalese as possible. I have taken that teaching to heart, such that even in writing my decisions in the Supreme Court, I have endeavored to use simple words so I could be understood not only by the lawyers but also by the litigants. An acclaimed master of the English language, Gani was nonetheless humble and self-effacing while demanding excellence and professionalism from every one. He patiently edited my first book published in 1994, a year before I joined the Supreme Court, titled “Love God Serve Man.”
In his “Editor’s Note” to my first book, he was generous to me, writing in part, and I quote him, “This (book) highlights the multi-faceted career and the many interests of the author. It shows his perspectives as a practising lawyer for the past 33 years. He views law not just as rigid formula but as a powerful force for giving order and justice to our society. He tempers the harshness of dry legal abstractions with vigor and vivacity of the social milieu in which they apply… this book reflects the eloquence of the man, the brilliance of the lawyer, the thoroughness of the scholar, the pragmatism of the businessman, the high-mindedness of the civil leader and the spirituality and high moral purpose of the lay leader that is Art Panganiban.” I am certain that my appointment to the Supreme Court by President Fidel V. Ramos one year after that book was published was influenced by his generous words in more ways than I can ever know.
Five years after I retired from the judiciary, Gani was again generous with his “Foreword” of the book we are launching today and I quote him, “While many of the columns deal with technical matters of law, they are written in simple, understandable language that uses a minimum of legal jargon. Because of their simplicity of style, clarity of thought and unassailable logic, the columns make for interesting and instructive reading… This is a book written by a moral man, a Christian who not only practices the forms and rituals of his faith but who also lives it, and through his columns, spreads the gospel of uprightness, morality and goodness.”
Were it not for his untimely demise, I am sure Gani would have been with us in person today. And even as I say this, I am also certain he is with us, hovering above us, joining us in spirit and in truth in our celebration.Ladies and gentlemen, Maraming salamat po sa inyong lahat.