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With Due Respect

Why my best friends are my best critics

My columns on Senior Justice Antonio T. Carpio attracted a lot of comments. On my piece titled, “Agreeing to disagree with Justice Carpio” (Oct. 27), many zeroed in on this sentence, “Despite these differences, he and I (and our spouses) remain the best of personal friends, enjoying our 95-percent harmony and overlooking our 5-percent cacophony.” And they asked, “How can you be close friends when you disagree on fundamental things?”

Well, I have news for them: I have differed without being difficult with all, repeat all, of my best friends, not just with Tony Carpio. In fact, I am grateful for their divergences made in good faith and in gentle, though at times emphatic, language.

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In contrast, I ignore offensive criticisms at imagined, false and/or misleading personal defects, conceived in malice and in bad faith to ridicule and belittle me. I won’t let schemers and kibitzers disrupt my goals. I will simply let them sink in their own mud. I stand on my track record and allow only those who truly know me to judge and defend me.

I take refuge in Romans 12:17-19: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all… live at peace with all. Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine…’”

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Let me cite other close friends. The late Dr. Jovito R. Salonga was my guru, dean and surrogate father. He excelled in everything he did: placed first in the bar exams; finished his LLB at UP, his LLM at Harvard and his JSD at Yale; and topped three senatorial elections. Indeed, he was the best president our country never had.

In comparison, I pale utterly, being only a poor newsboy born in squalid Tondo, Manila; reared by impoverished parents who barely reached basic schools; finished only an LLB at the masa-based Far Eastern University; and, placed just sixth in the bar exams.

His foremost teaching is not about law but about life: While it is good to have the many necessities that money can buy, like food on the table, sports and recreation for the body, and even a car and a house for the family, it is far better to have the rare gems that money CANNOT buy, like excellence, integrity, honor, dignity, and a reverential regard and love for God as the Source of all that is true, good and beautiful.

When I retired as chief justice, he honored me and the Panganiban Court by authoring (with another esteemed Protestant, Evelyn Miranda-Feliciano) a book titled, “A Test of Courage.” During its launch on Jan. 22, 2008 (where Justice Carpio was the guest speaker), he said:

“Up to now, Chief Justice Art refers to me as his mentor or guru. He has exaggerated my role, as I stated elsewhere. He has spoken for the Supreme Court on various subjects beyond my limited range—including mathematics, the latest advances in science and technology, economics, accounting and even canon law. In a deeper sense, Art is my mentor. For he is no longer the same person I used to know. Like St. Paul who saw the blinding light on the road to Damascus, Art embarked on his own inward journey, saw the light and was transformed.”

And yet, we agreed to disagree on something very fundamental: He was a revered pastor in the Cosmopolitan Church where he sometimes invited (but never proselytized) me while I was and still am just a fledgling Catholic.

The late Archbishop Leonardo Z. Legaspi was—as the then president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines—the presiding officer during the final sessions of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II) in mid-February 1991.

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He repeatedly ruled me out of order for insistently proposing and arguing that priests and nuns should be allowed to marry. Despite my stubbornness, he and the other bishops, along with another close friend, Ambassador Henrietta “Tita” de Villa, recommended me, and later on, Pope John Paul II named me (though unworthy) as the only Filipino member of the Pontifical Council of the Laity in the Vatican in 1996-2001.

Finally, my wife Leni occasionally critiques what I write and speak about, even how I look and dress, yet she remains my closest friend and beloved because every critical word is uttered with unconditional love.

Please note the sequence: Friend first before critic, and love first before criticism.

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