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With Due Respect

Thank you to two presidents

To celebrate my 80th birthday, the Foundation for Liberty and Prosperity staged on Dec. 20 the musicale “Ageless Passion,” which highlighted the major events of my life. Produced by Donna May Lina and directed by Bart Guingona, the Broadway-type musicale featured 18 original songs composed by Ryan Cayabyab with lyrics by Jeff Agustin.

President Ramos. In the Christmas spirit of thanksgiving, let me reproduce an edited (to fit this space) portion of my closing remarks delivered after the show, citing two past presidents:

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I thank President Fidel V. Ramos who plucked me from anonymity and conscripted me, though thoroughly unworthy, to the loftiest of the judiciary. A few days ago, he sent me his latest book titled “2030 One World, One Community, One Family,” together with a letter with this roaring salutation, “Dear Tiger Chief Justice Art.” Wow, he made my day calling me a “tiger” at 80. Perhaps, what he really meant is that I am a “harmless and toothless tiger.”

Allow me to quote a sentence from his sagacious letter: “It is said that life begins at 40. Therefore, one who is fortunate enough to reach the age 80 may be said to be ‘born again’ in the eyes of the Good Lord and his fellow men.”

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May I quickly reply that when I was 40, 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 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.”

Life begins at 80. I also fondly recall the famous essay of Dr. Frank Laubach: “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.”

President Arroyo. I also thank President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who named me chief justice, the highest position within her power to grant. She did so without much ado, without speaking with me or interviewing me.

The post became vacant on Dec. 20, 2005, and, without advising me before hand, she chose me from the list of nominees of the Judicial and Bar Council.

The next day, as I was delivering a speech in the ballroom of a five-star hotel, someone slipped a piece of paper to me saying, “I just heard over radio that you have been appointed chief justice by President Arroyo.”

I immediately froze on the rostrum unable to continue my speech. Forthwith, I descended the stage, avoided the media reporters waiting to interview me, got into my car with Leni, proceeded to our parish church, and on bended knees, fervently thanked the Lord for His bountiful blessings.

Despite the defeat of some of her initiatives in the Panganiban Court, President Arroyo has remained cordial to me, such that even after I had retired, she occasionally invited me to Malacañang to break bread and to pick on my ancient brains on some vital state matters.

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I dare say that, as shown by her presence in today’s celebration, we remain friends and firm believers in the vitality of our democracy, the supremacy of the rule of law, and the wisdom of checks and balances.

More next Sunday.

 

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TAGS: Fidel Ramos, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, opinion, president
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