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Estate Planning of a different kind

(Article published in the Sep 7,2005 issue of Manila Standard Today)

          Estate Planning with trust as centerpiece is the primary advocacy of this column.  Undoubtedly, it is a subject that has limited appeal.  Estate planning eventually leads to “talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs”. Unless among a family of morticians, that is verboten at the dinner table.  Moreover, the trust device despite being with us for over a century, continues to be an alien Anglo-American institution artificially grafted into the Roman law system of personal rights and duties that ruled our isles for more than three hundred years.

          But what makes estate planning especially difficult these days is the prevalent sense of turbulence and turmoil everywhere.  Prescind from the local political situation; no need to get into trouble this early.  America, the self-adoring superpower, is suddenly reduced to third-world ineptness by a natural disaster named “Katrina”.  Europe, which with the Euro seemed well on its way to being united politically, is once again in fragments as France and other countries unceremoniously rejected the EU constitution.  China and India, remembered by school children of my generation only as being “the most populous” are forecasted to overtake within the next twenty years the economies not just of Japan but also of America and Europe.

          Any planning assumes that what is true today will more or less, all the better if in fact more rather than less, be the same tomorrow.  But if the skies are overcast with the ancient Greek aphorism, “Everything flows, nothing stands still,” is it even possible to plan one’s estate?

          I know someone who did: Roman Mabanta, Jr.  Born on 23 May 1925 and dying on 19 August 2005, he lived through a good part of the Philippine Commonwealth; the early days of the independent Republic; the darkness of martial law; and the trying era of post EDSA I and II. That is more than enough flux even Heraclitus would wish to have in a lifetime.

          But plan, and plan in a grand manner, Roman Mabanta, Jr. did.  By reason of lawyer-client confidentiality, I cannot speak of what he did with his worldly goods.  But I am proud eye witness to a large part of what he did in life; a form of estate planning that is, I must say, of the ultimate kind.

          He hewed closely to what the Jesuits taught him,--among other things, nemo dat quod non habet.  He gave himself a good education: Atenean for grade school and high school; student at UP for his Associate in Arts; graduated bachelor of laws at the University of Santo Tomas, and attended post-graduate studies at the law schools of Columbia University and Harvard University.

          What he received from the academe, he immediately gave back. From 1955 onwards, he was an ever welcome member, as lecturer, professor or bar reviewer, of the faculties, of the Francisco Law School, Manila Law College, Abad Santos Law School, University of Manila, University of Sto. Tomas, and the Philippine Judicial Academy. 

          He was an active member of many professional, civic, and religious associations.  To name only a few: International Law Association; American Bar Association; World Association of Law Professors; Rotary Club of Manila; Parent-Teacher Association of the School  for the Deaf; Curcillos in Christianity; Christian Family Movement; and a delegate to the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines in 1991.

          He went into the active practice of law since 1950 after he passed the bar examinations with the general average of 90.25%. At the time of his death, he was senior partner at Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & De Los Angeles law offices.

          Ricardo J. Romulo gives testimonial after forty one years of working with Romy (he was “Romy” to us in the law office who are within 25 years of his age; the rest, in respectful awe, addressed him as “Atty. Mabanta”), “forty one years of working and building, of sharing and caring, of winning and losing, of learning and teaching, of living and dying”:

          “Romy was a man who carried himself with quiet dignity.  He was plain speaking and direct in all his dealings with anyone.  There was nothing superficial or pretentious about him.  So much so that he allowed his golden anniversary as a lawyer to pass without even mentioning it, much less holding a traditional celebration which he certainly deserved.  He held firmly to his Catholic faith and moral values.  What he preached, he practiced.  What he believed, he believed with heart and soul.”

          Fr. Steven Zabala, who administered the last rites seven hours before Romy breathed his last, confirms his spirituality: “being deeply religious, he always turned to God.  He received communion daily.  His room has the statute of the Blessed Mother, the crucifix, novena, and prayer booklets.  When he was still strong, he prayed.  When he got weak, his children prayed the rosary at his bedside.  And the children continued to pray up to the last hours of his life”.

          Like a true Atenean, he considered himself a child of Mary.  The rosary was part of his life; he prayed it and shared it.  Atty. Eduardo De Los Angeles, another senior partner in the law firm, recalls how much he was helped in a period of serious illness by the rosary that Romy gave him.  Romy wanted to die on a Saturday, saying to Fr. Zabala, “Saturday is the day of our Lady.  I want the Blessed Mother to welcome me.”  But Mary did one better, it seems; Romy was called on a Friday.  So together Mother and son could be at the foot of the Cross.

          Thus walked Romy in the footsteps of his Master, doing the ultimate in estate planning, storing up his “treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal”.  And to those he left behind, he gave a lasting legacy.  His grandson, Miguel, spoke it best: “I will miss you, lolo.  Now that you are gone, you have to go too soon, I might say.  But I know now you’re with me, day after day.”