Why has it become acceptable for public servants to own mansions?
By CONCHITA CARPIO-MORALES
Retired Supreme Court Justice
MANILA, Philippines—The Supreme Court is not a good place to retire because by the time you retire everybody knows you are already turning 70.
I find consolation, however, in what Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. stated that “to be seventy years young is sometimes far more cheerful and hopeful than to be forty years old.” So bring it on, as the night is also still young.
“You know you are getting old,” Bob Hope quipped, “when the [birthday] candles cost more than the [birthday] cake.” That is why I scrapped the birthday candles and am reserving them on my 75th.
Levity aside, I feel richly blessed with your presence tonight. You all have left an indelible mark in the pages of my life, which book I have been unfolding for the past 70 years.
German philosopher Schopenhauer commented that “[t]he first forty (40) years of our life give the text, the next thirty (30) furnish the commentary upon it, which enables us rightly to understand the true meaning and connection of the text with its moral and its beauties.”
Indeed, tonight’s affair is a celebration of the text and the commentary: those that have already been written down and those that are yet to be inscribed. The best is yet to come.
Looking back at the chronicles of previous generations, one cannot ignore the importance of taking into account one’s family heritage. For almost all of us, the family remains a well-spring of both unceasing inspiration and unrelenting admonition. The family pushes you to greater heights, but also pulls you from the verge of falling off the cliff.
I feel sorry for some who, I cannot understand, willingly jump into the cavernous pit and consequently blemish their name. Dershowitz, in his book Letters to a Young Lawyer, [I hope one comes up with Letters to an Old Lawyer] underscores the need for a constant and “strong moral core because [the] professional terrain is so ethically ambiguous and because the temptations to take moral shortcuts are so pervasive.”
This brings me to my next point on people wanting to advance their status or careers. It has been observed that society itself is partly to blame for having created an artificial construct of a leader or even a professional, in general.
Totally erasing the constitutional directive to “live modest lives,” the situation now stands that it becomes socially acceptable or even perfectly normal for public servants to own 10 mansions and/or have 10 cars.
Whereas before, one can chance upon a Health Secretary inside a provincial bus traveling to rural areas, as recalled by National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose when he addressed a group of doctors. Or whereas before, even the proposal of a car plan or loan program for senators was rejected by the Senate, as narrated by former Senator Saguisag in one television interview. To put it bluntly in tagalog, “ngayon, ‘pag opisyal ka ng gobyerno at di ka nakatira sa mansion at di ka nagmamaneho ng magagarang kotse, ang sasabihin ng tao sa ‘yo ay mahina ka o di ka magaling. Samantalang dati, sasabihin ng tao sa iyo ay: tapat at kahanga-hanga ka.”
This insatiable desire to get rich quick in order to satisfy the social expectation attached to one’s status is what drives honest men and women in government service to leave behind their moral core and jump into the bandwagon towards the ravine. It is not so much the rising cost of living. It is not the escalating cost of tuition for the children’s education. It is not the superficial sense of security or safety. One root cause is this disturbing social expectation. The nation must get rid of this phenomenon. This social expectation is a realistic manifestation that the notion of public service as a public trust has gone to the realm of triteness, amounting to a condition of social numbness to a blatant disregard of legal imperatives and a flagrant display of moral insensitivities.
Webster’s Dictionary has not yet found a word to articulate expressions of gratitude other than the word “thanks.” Thus, a million thanks I offer to the following:
First and foremost, I give thanks to our Almighty whose manifestations come in so many ways. Indeed, our one God works in unfathomable ways. Without Him, it would have been totally impossible for me to benefit from the company of friends and fiends, the criticisms of allies and aliens, in the course of various appointments and disappointments in life.
Whatever lies ahead, I leave it up to Him who is all-knowing. As Albert Einstein once said, “I never think of the future [for] it comes soon enough.”
After saying a little prayer to cap the day, I await the future in the earnest hope and faith that only God knows what is best for me. The secret to staying worry-free at 70 is, to my mind, casting all your worries to the One up there. I heard someone say that when you still worry after praying, it means you are doubting what God is designing for you, and that you are still preoccupied with your own plans for yourself, instead of surrendering to His will.
I am not a “religious” person, as some of you may be aware of. I do believe, however, that religion and religiosity are personal matters – ‘tis something between you and your God – that evoke the good, the pure, and the beautiful inside you during your quietest moments amid the most turbulent episodes of your life.
I also wish to specially thank my husband, Kenny, and my two sons, Nikki and Bambi and his wife Jazzi, for enduring my presence and tolerating my absence. Lots of love go to my two-month old grandchild, Ennio Javier, for always putting a smile on grandC’s face.
My gratitude also goes to the members of my staff who had been with me in various posts from the Regional Trial Court of Pili, Camarines Sur and of Pasay City to the Court of Appeals. To my Supreme Court staff, past and present, I shall forever be grateful. I am likewise blessed for having had a platoon of passionate and promising lawyers as members of my legal staff. I am equally fortunate for having had the opportunity and privilege of sharing judicial work with you.
Thank you to my mentors and colleagues. You have all been worthy companions in my judicial pilgrimage.
Thank you to the organizers of this event. I do appreciate this warm gathering of friends.
Like American essayist John Burroughs, I “still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.” The
gift of time is priceless.
May I leave you with four lines from the Old Irish Blessing:
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
x x x x
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.
And so, finally, to borrow Shakespeare’s words in Hamlet (Act I, Scene V):
. . . without more circumstance at all,
I find it fit that we shake hands and part…
Until we meet again.
(Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales delivered this speech on June 17, 2011, when she retired from the Supreme Court. The retired justice is one of the nominees to the position of Ombudsman.)
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