The way we were in RCM
Last Nov. 16, the Rotary Club of Manila (RCM) joined by several Rotarians from other clubs honored me, though IMHO completely unnecessary, as “the Only Philippine Rotary President to Become Chief Justice.” District governor-elect Jackie Rodriguez requested me, as their guest speaker (I have retired from RCM many years ago), to reminisce the way we were during my presidency in 1990-1991 “to show our new members a wonderful glimpse of our glorious past.” Here is a summary of my speech. (Full copy at cjpanganiban.com)
RCM IS THE FIRST AND OLDEST IN ASIA, having been founded on June 1, 1919. During my presidency, it had 455 members, making it the largest in the world, excluding the United States. It was composed of Cabinet members, senators, congressmen, justices, 40 talented doctors, 50 brilliant lawyers, several bank presidents, ambassadors, and heads of the top 300 companies in the country. RCM met regularly at the Manila Hotel, the most magnificent at that time, as highly regarded as today’s Grand Hyatt and Shangri-La.
Whenever Presidents Ferdinand Marcos Sr., Cory Aquino, and Fidel V. Ramos had something important to say to our people, they would simply take the RCM rostrum and fire away, assured of coverage by all radio-TV-print media.
Under the then RCM procedures, which were unique in the world of Rotary, the Rotarian who garnered the highest number of votes in the open election for membership in the board of directors was automatically proclaimed president.
When told that my name would be included in the list for board membership in 1990, I asked our Catholic charismatic group, the Bukas Loob sa Diyos (BLD) to join me in discerning whether I should accept this challenge. It was (and still is) my firm belief that the Lord Jesus speaks to us through the Bible. Though written 2,000 years ago, the words of the Holy Book are still true today as they were yesterday and would be tomorrow.
DURING OUR DISCERNMENT PROCESS, we prayed and “waited” on the Lord. Eventually, we were led to Isaiah 42:1-8: “Here is my servant whom I uphold. My chosen one with whom I am pleased; upon whom I have put my spirit … for the victory of justice … to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement … “
When the elections came, the results were never in doubt. I topped the voting with a record margin in RCM’s history. Fortunately, I was elected in December 1989, and took over the presidency only in July 1990, giving me seven months to reflect and plan for my incumbency.
Our BLD prayers and discernment led us to Mark 12:29-32, in which the Lord summarized the Ten Commandments into two; first, to “love the Lord, your God … and [second to] love your neighbor as yourself.” Based on this command, I formulated the credo of my RCM presidency: “LOVE GOD SERVE MAN.”
I expanded this credo into a full-blown printed 76-page Program of Action (a “first” in RCM’s history), detailing 178 projects, complete with specific timelines. It called for a budget of P90 million (roughly P300 million now), an outlay 18 times more than the annual P5 million in the past.
IN MY INAUGURAL ADDRESS ON JULY 12, 1990, I passionately stressed that our 178 projects and P90-million budget shall be devoted to the amelioration of “the least of our brothers” as required by our Lord in Matthew 25. I said, “… To me, this is the raison d’etre, the reason for being of Manila Rotary—to help those who cannot help themselves and to help those who cannot help us back in return … Upon this credo, LOVE GOD SERVE MAN, I shall be judged, not only in the Rotary Club of Manila but I dare say, in my whole unworthy life here on earth.”
The RCM members had mixed reactions—from the incredulously critical (“Why is religion now a program of RCM?”) to the euphoric (“Alleluia, what a spirit-filled speech!”) But the true test of their response was dramatically displayed one week after my inaugural.
You see, on Monday, July 16, 1990, four days after my induction as president, Luzon, especially Baguio, was devastated by a killer earthquake with a 7.7 magnitude on the Richter scale, causing more than 2,000 deaths. During the RCM meeting three days later, on July 19, I pleaded for assistance to the poor, afflicted, and weak earthquake victims.
The members thunderously responded with a massive P7 million cash—16 times more than my best expectations. Moreover, the doctors conducted medical missions; businessmen sent their products, the wives sent old clothes and groceries. We set up a “tent city” for 250 families in Burnham Park, Baguio. Foreign Rotarians responded marvelously. One club, the Rotary Club of Waikiki, air-freighted from Hawaii over 3,300 kilos of relief goods in one shipment.
I thanked the Lord for this massive response. I viewed it as the answer to my call to LOVE GOD SERVE MAN and as a sign of His Providence when we discern and obey His will and step out in faith to proclaim it.
A year later, on June 27, 1991, I delivered my valedictory address and distributed my 94-page printed “Final Report” saying that 95 percent of our program had been accomplished and suggesting how the balance of five percent could be followed up.
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