By Jovito R. Salonga
Only two weeks ago, a major newspaper published a front-page feature on a philandering 84-year old retiree-a former public school teacher-who had a quarrel with her live-in partner, a 30-old, able bodied young woman who was consumed by jealousy.
It was a midnight quarrel on a memorable Sunday in Caloocan City. What were they quarreling about? The young unrepentant woman, Yolanda Laureano, told the police: “Niloloko lang niya ako. Dinemonyo na niya ako, naghanap pa ng iba. (He was already demonizing me; he still wanted to fool around with others.) A native of Candon, Ilocos Sur, Yolanda was held by the police for the death of Mauro Yap, Sr. She had no regret for beating up the elderly retiree. “Sobra na kasi,” she said. Yolanda Laureano suspected him of sleeping with another woman.
She decided to confront him about it when he came that Sunday. The verbal altercation turned ugly when the young woman pounded the old man with her fist. The old retiree tried to parry her assault by fighting back, resulting in a blackened left eye with bruises on her arm.
But a knockout Sunday punch from a young woman hit the old retiree on the jaw, sending him to the ground. Seething in anger, Yolanda then grabbed the old man by the hair-which means hindi kalbo-and pounded his head on the hard floor, resulting in his death.
Ano ba ang ibig sabihin ng istoryang ito? The elderly retiree must know how to control his worldly appetite, his hormonal balance, and observe a little sense of ethical, moral values, even if he is in a live-in situation. Mas mainam yata iyong ginagawa ng isang retiree na talagang matanda na. Pag-gising niya sa umaga, binabasa niya ang dalawang popular na diyaryo habang umiinom ng kape. Agad niyang tinitignan ang Obituaries. Iniisa niya ang mga nakalistang pangalan. Kung hindi niya makita ang kanyang pangalan, nangingiti siya-Salamat po, Panginoon buhay pa pala ako!
Seriously speaking, there are certain points we should remember.
1. AGING IS INEVITABLE. As we grow older, our hair becomes gray, the skin less elastic, our reflexes is slower, and the lens of the eye becomes foggy. But it is the time of great wisdom, our richest experience, and our deepest insights.
Whatever we do, we will not live forever. The fountain of Youth of Ponce de Leon is nothing more than a myth. There is no way we can reach 200 years or more. Magpasalamat tayo sa Diyos kung tayo’y makaabot sa siyam napu o isang daan.
In China, says Lin Yutang, the 51st birthday is an occasion of great rejoicing; the 61st and 71st are progressively happier and grander; a man able to celebrate his 81st birthday is one specially favored by the gods.
When I attend class reunions, the number of attendance keeps dwindling, since most of us are around my age-84 going 85. In RHS Class 1936, to which I belong, mapalad kung dumalo ang lima. In my UP Law Class 1942, karaniwan ay tatlo o apat na lang ang dumadating ang iba ay maysakit at hindi na makalakad.
But what frightens many people, as Rabbi Kushner puts it is the dread of insignificance, the notion that we will be born, live one day, and none of it will matter. A good many people don’t want to live forever-it is like reading a good book or watching a good movie that never ended.
Many people understand that the story of our lives must have a beginning, middle, and an end. But what they desperately want is to live long enough to get it right, to feel that they have done something worthwhile with their lives.
2. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF AGE. The senior who ages well makes use of the enormous advantage of age. Look at the lives of the many vigorous centenarians and seniors in public life. George Burns and Bob Hope in their 90’s entertained millions of people. Grandma Moses was still painting at 100. Bertrand Russell was active at 94. George Bernard Shaw was writing at 91. At 89 Dr. Albert Schweitzer headed for a hospital in primitive Africa.
Konrad Adenauer, whom I met and conferred with in his residence in Bonn, together with Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez in 1963, was the Chancellor of West Germany at 88. At age 86, Marshall Tito of Yugoslavia married for the fourth time, saying that was his way of keeping young and vigorous. When he was 96 and still playing his cello, Pablo Casals commented: “Age is a relative matter. If you continue to work and absorb the beauty of the world around you, you find that age does not necessarily mean getting old.
As stated by Dr. James F. Fries, “the potential of the human spirit is clearly long-lasting. The achievements of the persons I mentioned “are not the achievements of the youth. They build on the attributes of age”-WISDOM, EXPERIENCE, AND DEEP INSIGHTS.
MARAHIL, ang itatanong ninyo sa akin, iyan bang sinasabi ninyo, nagagawa ninyo?
“Know thyself”, the great philosopher tells us. But there is a danger in too much self-analysis. At one extreme, we could spend a lot of time brooding on our aches and pains, boring others with sad stories of our ailments and illnesses. At the other extreme, we could be doing nothing else but congratulating ourselves on our accomplishments. Self-adulation could be even more boring. For he who falls in love with himself will have no rivals, as Benjamin Franklin used to remind his contemporaries.
I look at myself, with no attempt to congratulate myself but to consider only the documented facts. I was busy in my law practice and teaching, having written a number of law books, when I was appointed Dean of Law of FEU in 1957. In 1960 Vice President Diosdado Macapagal, in the company of Terry Adevoso (both ranking Liberals) came to my residence two times, if I recall correctly, to convince me to run as a Congressman in the 2nd district of Rizal, without need of any LP Convention. Talaga namang kaunti na ang natirang Liberal noon, Bakit?
Si Senador Lorenzo Sumulong, na siyang No. 1 Liberal sa Rizal noong 1953, ay nagging Nasyonalista at sumama sa kampanya ni Ramon Magsaysay laban kay Elpidio Quirino. Kayat may dalawang political dynasties kami sa Rizal-Rodriguez at Sumulong. Nang yumao si Magsaysay naglaban naman ang dalawa sa loob ng NP. I was finally persuaded to run. After making a thorough analysis of the situation in my district and after the remaining liberals there pledged their all-out support.
I won over the protégés of the two political dynasties in the 1961 election-that is, over is Kumong Sumulong and Serafin Salvador-by an overwhelming majority. I served for only one term as Congressman as I was asked by my Party to run for the Senate. I was elected Senator for 3 times-1965 (even if I could not campaign due to extensive injuries I sustained as a result of the Plaza Miranda bombing on August 21, 1971), and then in 1987, after serving for one year as PCGG Chairman.
I recall that when I was in PCGG, we did not only sequester and start the recovery of the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and their cronies-I also helped revitalized the Liberal Party which had elected me Party President, to succeed the late Gerry Roxas.
In 1986, I also organized the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation. After being reminded by Dr. Ruben Mallari-a prominent doctor from California and head of the Ninoy Aquino Movement, who arrived shortly after the EDSA I not to forget those who had fallen in the night without witnessing People Power and the ouster of Marcos from power. That is how Bantayog was born, with Dona Aurora Aquino as Honorary Chairman and President giving us sizeable parcel of land in Quezon City (1.5 hectares) near the corner of EDSA and Quezon Avenue Extension to honor the men and women, who had given their lives for the sake of freedom and democracy without seeing the dawn of freedom-such young men as Edgar Jopson and Manny Yap, and others like Ninoy Aquino and EV Javier. Later, we also honored those who survived EDSA 1 but gave their talents, time and resources to restore freedom and democracy in our land, such notables as Lorenzo M. Tanada, Jose W. Diokno, Chino Roces and others equally worthy.
In the Senate I authored 3 major bills:1) RA 6713, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Government Officials and Employees: (2) RA 7090, the Anti-Plunder Law: and (3) RA 6968, the Anti-Coup d’etat Law.
But the finest hour of the Philippines Senate during my presidency was when 12 senators rejected the further stay of US bases in the Philippines, thus ending more than 400 years of military presence in our country.
After my failed bid for president in 1992, which delighted my family, I retired from Government service but I did not retire from serving people outside Government. On August 2, 1993, I founded Kilosbayan-a non-partisan, ethics-oriented people organization to arouse public interest in important questions on public policy, on the basis of civilized norms of morality, justice, truths and ethics. Its contributions to our country are a matter of public knowledge.
On Recto’s birthday on February 8, 2000, I founded Bantay ng Katarungan, a non-partisan, independent NGO, for the purpose of reforming and modernizing our system of justice in the Philippines, with my former partner, former Secretary of Justice Sedfrey Ordoñez, as Chairman. Our watchdogs or sentinels are law students of competence and idealism, recommended to us by the deans of the best laws schools in Metro Manila-UP, Ateneo, San Beda, FEU and Lyceum. These students, who have no vested interest to protect and no axes to grind, monitor the performance of our courts-including the Supreme Court, the Sandiganbayan, the Court of Appeals-and other quasijudicial tribunals-such as the Comelec and the Judicial and Bar Council-particularly in cases involving the public interest, such as plunder, graft and corruption, violation of human rights, the degradation of the environment, and screening appointments to important positions in the judiciary-such as the Supreme Court, the Sandiganbayan and the Court of Appeals.
Ambassador Ordoñez and I do not get any salary or compensation for our services but, at our age, we feel needed and useful, since we are able to make use of our unique experience and insights, for the benefit of our people, particularly the youth of the land who will come after us-especially in seeking justice for all, especially to our poor, forgotten people. We have only a few remaining years left but serving others for a cause bigger than our selves is, for us, the very definition of joy, happiness and fulfillment.
Many years ago, a group of sociology students in the US surveyed 20 venerable, decrepit elderlies who had reached the age of 95. One question they asked produced amazingly similar answers. The question “If you could live your life all over again, what would you do differently? They responded with these three things: (1) they would risk more, hindi laging segurista; (2) they would meditate more: (3) they would spend more time and energy pursuing things that would survive after they died. More important than the making of a living of a good life-a life of purpose and meaning.
I began this little speech with a joke. Let me end it with something better than a joke. After the launching of my book Presidential Plunder in 1980- I was 80 at the time-I received a quotation from my friend Commodore Alcaraz from California. It was a quote from the well-known Frank Laubach, who had been a missionary to the Muslims in Lanao whom he taught how to read and write English in the 30s, then persuaded by Mahatma Gandhi to also teach the people of India, then invited to some places in South America where also served. When he got back to the US, he composed the piece, “Life Begins at 80.”
(Speech to the Retirees Association of the Philippines on May 27, 2005 at Ateneo, QC)
Proverbs 3:5 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”
“Give God the reins”
Cliff Schimmels says: “When I was young my dad had a team of horses. One day he said to me, ‘Son, would you like to drive?’ So I took the reins. I was in control. I was driving. But the plodding bothered me, it was too slow. So I clucked the horses along and they began to trot. Then Babe and Blue came up with a better idea. They decided that if they ran we would get home faster. Soon they were running as fast as I’ve seen horses run. As the prairie-dog holes whizzed by I concluded that we were in a dangerous situation, so I tried my best to slow down the runaway team. I tugged on the reins until my hands cramped. I cried and pleaded, but nothing worked. Old Babe and Blue just kept running. I glanced over at my dad and he was just sitting there, watching the world go by. By now I was frantic. My hands were cut from the reins, tears streaming down my face, frozen from the winter cold. Finally in desperation I turned to my dad and said, ‘Here, take the reins, I don’t want to drive anymore.’ Now that I’m older and people call me grandpa, I re-enact that scene at least once a day.”
Regardless of how old we get or how capable we think we are, there’s always that moment when the only way out is to turn to our Heavenly Father and say, “Here, take the reins, I don’t want to drive anymore.” And He will, but you’ve got to give them to Him!