Growing old usefully

HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose - The Philippine Star

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban in his recent column noted how one can really grow old gracefully. Knowing the man, he is indeed also growing old usefully. Note that unlike some Filipino leaders who, in their twilight years, are growing old ruefully, try to undo their past misdeeds and revise history, too.

I first met the former Chief Justice in the late fifties as a young and gifted writer. He came from a poor family and to make a living, he shined shoes. He worked his way through college. He got a grant to study at Diliman but he didn’t make it; he was so poor, he had no fare money; and as student leader, he led the activist National Union of Students. He graduated cum laude from the Far Eastern University (FEU) College of Law.

Upon passing the Bar, he joined the law office of Salonga and Ordonez. And in 1963, he formed a law office and worked pro bono for the church. President Fidel V. Ramos appreciated him and appointed him to the Supreme Court.

It was, of course, to be expected. The FEU honored him with a Ph.D. Strengthened – tempered – by his past struggles, Art Panganiban has not hesitated to stand firm on issues for which he was criticized, among them, the death sentence of Leo Echegaray and the ouster of President Estrada at EDSA II.

The Philippine Bar Association, celebrating its foundation day in 2002, conferred on him the Award of Honor, citing him “a principled and visionary leader, a renaissance man, a nobly souled and gifted jurist.” Growing old usefully aside from writing his column, he is the director or adviser to corporations, among them the GMA7 Network. He is married to Elenita Alcazar Carpio, former professor of the Asian Institute of Management. They have five children.

Of the many Supreme Court justices in the post-war period, Justice Panganiban stands out as a scholar who authored not just texts for lawyers and students of Philippine jurisprudence but general essays on the humanities and the Filipino condition. Having followed his column from day one, I know he has provided his readers insights on our long-lasting problems, particularly leadership.

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The Supreme Court oversees all the courts. Though it is a co-equal institution like Congress and the Presidency, its budget isn’t all that big. It needs more judges, court houses and, most of all, truly independent justices. Many judges have been killed; it is necessary for them to have assured insurance for their families. Our courts are clogged. Hundreds of murders are unsolved and our prisons are a mess and overcrowded. And above all these is unabated corruption.

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Meanwhile, as election year approaches, the political pot is boiling. So much foul language obfuscates meaningful dialogue. I like Dick Gordon’s reposte to the President’s bullying: cool – the unkindest word he used is “cheap.” Manny Pacquiao has, on the other hand, lost his cool – filing a P100-million libel charge against Pastor Quiboloy in Davao.

All sorts of combinations are being hosted and as usual, the hopefuls are noisy with their motherhood proclamations. We presume of course that all the candidates are there for the money. Yet, there was a time when politicians ran for elective positions for the honor, the privilege of being called alcalde. Politicians then spent their money, sold their properties to finance their campaign. As I see it now, among the politicians it is only Manny Pacquiao who is ready to let go of his millions for his campaign. I hope Ramon Ang will also run – the man will surely use his own money, too.

This nation is never – has never – been short of brilliant people, patriotic even. But many of our politicians are so parochial – and with this parochialism, they are barely able to know others, particularly those who can lead. Though our population is much more than most Western countries, geographically we are compact though composed of so many islands. In whatever field, it is easy to identify the outstanding. Any politician who aspires to lead should know these outstanding personalities so he can recruit them. Magsaysay knew this. Marcos, too, but he misused them.

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Many of us, cocooned in comfort and well-being, are not aware of the grave danger we face as a nation. This pandemic has wrought havoc and hunger to millions of our people, famine looms in the horizon. We as a people and our leaders are not prepared for this; in living memory we had never experienced it.

Let us go back to those times when SARS stirred us into awareness of widespread infection. If our leaders had foresight, they should have created then a system of detection and prevention. But like most countries of the world, we did not. The major threat from this pandemic, according to the experts, is that the virus will have many mutations and science will not be able to catch up with new vaccines. I fear for our future. But there is enough warning for all of us.

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What is really sad about the Filipino is not just his lack of intelligence but also memory. Those shortcomings are obvious in the leaders they elect. This absence of memory shows itself in the return of the Marcoses, alas a condition abetted by the President himself. A very blatant attempt to revise history is in the works, the continuous denial of the atrocities of Marcos. Of course, the record cannot be altered – and this is not just in the memory of the survivors, but in the testimony in libraries all over the world that cannot be erased.

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Let me end this week’s column with some good news. First, John Arcilla winning the best actor award in Venice. And let me remind my readers of the beautiful music Lea Salonga has given the world. Those medals won by our athletes at the Tokyo Olympics are just harbingers of more honors coming our way.



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