Tonight, as we pay tribute to four outstanding Filipinos, I am deeply honored to be your speaker. When Mr. Vicente Ayllon, chairperson of the board and CEO of Insular Life, first invited me to be the guest of honor and speaker in this event back in September, I immediately wrote back to inform him that I would no longer be the head of the judiciary at this time. You see, as mandated by our Constitution, I was automatically retired as Chief Justice of the Philippines when I turned 70 at midnight of December 6, 2006. But Mr. Ayllon assured me that my retirement had nothing to do with tonight’s awarding program and did not in any way alter his previous invitation. So here I am, a “has been” Chief Justice.
Life of Retirement, not of Resignation
At my age, I may be looking forward to a life of retirement, but I am certainly not ready to settle into a life of complacency. While my knees may start to hurt once in a while when I play tennis or golf, I assure you that I can still do a mean boogie or tango. After having spoken and, literally, written volumes, I can still stand before you, even if on wobbly legs. And when I look at my wife, Leni, my heart still remembers to beat to the staccato rhythm of young ardor. Retirement gives me the time and opportunity to invite her to have a quiet dinner at our favorite restaurant, hold her hands and whisper sweet nothings as I did 50 years ago, when I was still a carefree swain trying to impress her.
TOFIL: Because Passion is Ageless
The establishment of The Outstanding Filipino or TOFIL Award in 1988 was anchored on the belief that age was not an obstacle to achievement and passion not the sole province of the young.
Indeed, the “old” adage that life begins at 40 is affirmed by the fact that a lot of mature men and women deserve recognition for their contributions to society. Thus, the Philippine Jaycee Senate conceived the TOFIL Award to institutionalize the recognition of Filipinos, 41 years of age and over, whose exemplary achievements in their various fields are worthy of emulation.
Recognizing Filipino Talent
World-class Filipino artistry and achievements have been noted in various fields of endeavor. In the arts, Juan Luna’s Spoliarium won the gold medal in Madrid in 1884. In the 60s, Pilita Corrales was a big hit in Las Vegas, where equally talented singer, Lani Misalucha, is now making waves. Lea Salonga has become a renowned world-class performer since taking the lead in London in the 80s and in Broadway in the 90s.
The international sports feats of Efren Bata Reyes, Django Bustamante, Lydia de Vega, Paeng Nepomoceno, Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, and now Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao have become legend. Monique Lhuillier has made a big name in fashion design in Hollywood.
Our work force also proves the greatness of Filipinos. While many of our brethren have been forced to pursue opportunities abroad, they are a testament to Filipino skill and capability. Our millions of overseas workers have been the primary choice of foreign employers for various jobs, such as nursing, seafaring, engineering, the performing arts, computer programming, and accounting. The billions of dollars they remit keep the country afloat, so we recognize them as modern heroes. Loida Nicolas Lewis is proof that Filipinos could excel as well as any world class entrepreneur.
On a lighter note, let me add that the yo-yo originated from the Philippines. So did the board game called “The Game of the Generals.” We also have our own martial arts, called eskrima.
Indeed, we take pride in recognizing Filipinos who have excelled in their respective fields. Not only are they a showcase for the world to see and admire, they are also exemplars who motivate us and make us believe that, like them, we could attain success.
Four Exceptional Filipinos
Tonight, we are assembled to recognize four exceptional Filipinos for their achievements and continuing passion.
Fr. Marciano “Rocky” G. Evangelista, SDB, who, through the Tuloy Foundation, Inc., has worked for the education and rehabilitation of street children and at-risk out-of-school youth, managing to transform their lives to become productive members of society. My wife, Leni, and I are privileged to have known him for two decades now since he was the parish priest of Don Bosco in Makati.
Antonio Meloto who has paved the way for building homes for slum dwellers in the Philippines. Together with the Gawad Kalinga Community Development Foundation, he has demonstrated that a concern for and a deep commitment to helping the homeless acquire their own places of abode help in rebuilding their lives holistically. He is also a 2006 Ramon Magsaysay Foundation awardee.
Ramon G. Orlina, who—through his creativity and innovative method of cutting, grinding and polishing glass—transforms them into fine works of art. His masterpieces proclaim to an international audience the talents and genius of the Filipino.
Socorro C. Ramos, the grand dame of the book- publishing industry, who, through her determination and entrepreneurial skills, has built a thriving enterprise that contributes to feeding and shaping the minds of generations.
With their continued zest for living and for giving of themselves, our awardees inspire us to believe that what our minds can conceive, we can achieve, whatever age we are. The four are the embodiments and models of the 3 E’s of a life worth living.
The 3 E’s
The first “E” stands for excellence. Excellence demands that we give our best in whatever it is we decide to do. It requires not just competence, but also dedication to duty and hard work. We must make use of everything we have to succeed in life. It is the continuous pursuit of excellence that empowers us to constantly move forward and beyond.
The second value is ethics. Ethics calls for internalizing the old-fashioned principles of integrity, courage and prudence. It is the use of our talents and gifts towards a society that is morally upright. At the end of life’s long journey, it is the knowledge of having championed what is right. The constant pursuit of ethical conduct is the source of self-worth and fulfillment. Our ethical thoughts and actions will continue to live on in the hearts and minds of those we leave behind.
Finally, we must prepare for the third “E,” which is eternity, our life’s final destiny. At the end of life’s journey, we will account for everything we have done. Thus, in everything we think, say or do, we must set our sights beyond the here and now to our life hereafter.
These 3 E’s are therefore interconnected. Through excellence, we hone our talents and gifts. These gifts, we must utilize in an ethical manner to attain an exemplary life and to promote a morally upright society. The constant sacrifices to attain excellence and to lead ethical lives allow us to transcend our mortal selves towards eternity.
Through their talents and artistry, steadfast commitment, service to community, and pioneering efforts, our awardees tonight have paved the way for the betterment of the Filipino people. Truly, they deserve our sincere congratulations.
As we pay tribute to these outstanding Filipinos, may we draw inspiration from their persevering efforts and steadfast belief in the genius of our people.
A common reminder that we give to the youth is to tell them that they have their whole lives ahead of them. And yet, this truism applies to all of us, whether we are 7 or 70 years old, whether we may have 10 years or 10 days left to live. At this point in our lives, we each have our whole life ahead of us. It is not the amount of time we have left, but what we do with it that counts.
I remember fondly what my mentor, Dr. Jovito R. Salonga, said to me. I now paraphrase it to all of you:
“God is not finished with us. For life is a long, continuing process. In a deeper sense, we are all in process, always in a state of becoming, always in a period of transition, since all of us are en route on some kind of never-ending journey.”
To each one of our awardees, truly outstanding men and women our country can be proud of, congratulations once again on your well-deserved recognition! The Filipino people acclaim you and rejoice over your achievements. Mabuhay kayong lahat!
Maraming salamat po.
Address delivered by retired Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban during the conferment of the 2006 TOFIL Awards to four outstanding Filipinos on December 12, 2006, at the Insular Life Corporate Centre in Filinvest Alabang, Muntinlupa City.