100 years of ‘Service Above Self’ | Inquirer Opinion
With Due Respect

100 years of ‘Service Above Self’

Hail to the Rotary Club of Manila (RCM) for publicly showcasing its century of charitable and socio-civic activities during this month of June. Chartered on June 1, 1919, as the “First in Asia” and led by its founding president Leon Lambert and 37 other charter members, the RCM rapidly spread the gospel of “Service Above Self” by organizing “daughter clubs” in the Philippines and in Asia. In turn, the daughter clubs gave birth to more clubs, now totaling about 800 in our country alone.

During these 100 years of selfless voluntary service, RCM members raised funds from private sources, mostly from their own pockets, devoted an enormous amount of their precious time, and undertook countless humanitarian projects and programs to help the impoverished, the disabled, the sick, the helpless and the disaster-stricken.


These programs included medical and surgical missions, sight and hearing preservation, drug abuse prevention, health and hygiene education, energy conservation, teacher development, environment protection, legal aid for the helpless, scholarships for the needy, disaster relief and rehabilitation, and public order and safety.

In fact, RCM and its members institutionalized some of these programs into separate autonomous organizations like the Boy Scouts, Community Chest, Philippine Band of Mercy, Philippine Cancer Society, Sagip-Kabataan (Save the Children) Foundation, RCM Eyebank Foundation, Philippine Rotary Pacemaker Bank Foundation, RCM Medico-Surgical Missions Foundation, Safety Organization of the Philippines, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Gatches Village, and many others.


At present, RCM has 226 members, but when I was still a member, it had over 400, making it not only the first but also the largest club in Asia. Over the years, its storied membership included business leaders (like Henry Sy Sr., John Gokongwei Jr., Andrew Gotianun, Alfonso Yuchengco and Ramon V. Del Rosario), labor icons (like Roberto Oca Jr., Blas Ople and Bienvenido Laguesma), prominent professionals (too many to list down samples of them), government officials (like Douglas MacArthur, Carlos P. Romulo, Fidel V. Ramos, legislators and Cabinet members), and Rotary VIPs (like Mateo Armando Tengco “Mat” Caparas, the only Filipino to be elected president of Rotary International).

RCM presidents usually took a yearlong leave of absence from their businesses or professions to devote full time to their many responsibilities. Among them were Arsenio Luz (first Filipino president, 1933-1934), Gil J. Puyat (1940-41 and 1945-46), Hans G. Menzi (1952-53), Eduardo Z. Romualdez (1953-54). Eugenio J. Puyat (1954-55), Francisco Delgado (1957-58), Antonio Roxas-Chua (1969-70), Fr. Francisco G. Reyes (1977-78), Alberto G. Romulo (1978-79), Vicente J. Carlos (1982-83), Edgardo P. Reyes (1986-87) and Arsenio M. Bartolome III (1988-89).

I will never forget my RCM presidency in 1990-91. Like the others, I was elected a year ahead of my actual incumbency to give me time to prepare my program of activities. The psychic fulfillment of a job well done more than made up for my loss of professional and business income for one year.

I retired from RCM when I became chief justice. However, after my retirement from both the judiciary and the RCM, I moved on to other philanthropic endeavors as board chairman  of the Foundation for Liberty and Prosperity, president of the Manila Cathedral-Basilica Foundation, chairman of the board of advisers of the Metrobank Foundation, and trustee of the Tan Yan Kee Foundation, Claudio Teehankee Foundation, Asean Law Foundation and a few more.

My move to these benevolent ventures was made with the same spirit of “Service Above Self,” fully confident that even without me, the RCM — now led by its centennial president Jesus Pineda Jr., president-elect Jack Rodriquez and vice president-elect Hermie Esguerra — would zoom ever faster in pursuing its avowed humanitarian mission.

In closing, I thank my Rotarian brethren for giving me an award at the Philippine International Convention Center on June 21  “for invaluable visionary guidance, outstanding professionalism and exemplary leadership,” and for being the only Rotary president to be chief justice of our country.

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