I should have been daunted when I first met THE Justice Florentino Panlilio Feliciano or FPF as he is sometimes referred to. After all, he is most respected and well admired in legal and professional circles. I knew of him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court , a Yale Law alum, a substantial gentleman of the old school.
Indeed, he strikes a serious demeanor, made even more magisterial with his deep voice and measured speech. It’s hard to doubt what he has to say on any subject when his delivery is quite professorial. He is deeply committed to rigor, discipline, decency and integrity, and can be refreshingly forthright and candid in a culture marked by innuendoes and unspoken truths.
His seriousness has a lighter, more human aspect to it as well. He can be seriously funny even without meaning to be so, seriously confounded by say, a new (Starbucks) “fancy” sandwich we brought him once in his seriously cluttered office! He can be seriously innocent of today’s more worldly, casual ways, even seriously simple and humble, often telling us that he’s “just an old man, what does he know…” Seriously?!
He is more importantly, a deeply committed family man, possessed of solid morals and values from a generation that is sadly passing and likely irreplaceable – the generation of our fathers, who lived through wars and hardship, and who hold honorable, selfless dreams. He cares seriously about his wife of many years, his children’s lives even from a seeming distance, his grandchildren’s interests and dreams for their future, his sisters and extended family. He cared enough to mentor young, sharp, legal minds, among them, the current (youngest) Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
He even cares to listen and counsel friends of his children, especially when he sees that something may not be right or one happened to give a comment that is not entirely reasonable, or some injustice is committed. He has a keen eye for detail, not just for legal tomes, but even to notice the deep sadness in a little girl’s wide-eyed face, to admire a painting that caught his discrete interest or a piece of jewelry that one might be wearing, even to gently comment on an unflattering dress. No small detail escapes his notice and he says so in his characteristic baritone voice, often punctuated with “sweetie” to his daughters and grandchildren or “my dear” to those privileged to be close enough to him.
I should have met Justice Feliciano almost 18 years ago, under more auspicious circumstances, but I didn’t. I met him when I desperately needed wise counsel amid much confusion in my world, thanks to an introduction of a close friend, who happens to be his daughter. Since that fateful meeting, Justice Feliciano has been and continues to be a dear, respected, trusted, personal “adviser,” and I should be so lucky to call him “Tito Toy.”
We just lost one of the greatest defenders of the state, of the people. Justice Florentino P. Feliciano left us on December 15, Tuesday, aged 87. He is survived by his wife Virginia Toralballa-Feliciano, and six children and in-laws Josephine Ann and Emmanuel, Regina Stella and Hans, and Robert and Des.
[Photograph: Wig Tysmans]