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For Jobo and forever

(Article published in the Dec 14,2005 issue of Manila Standard Today)

              Last 07 December, as they had been doing in other years during this season of remembering, a group gathered to recall once more the times they spent working for a man who seemed to have come from the future and in a bank that seemed have been built on the granite of forever. 

 Gathering the faithful has become more and more difficult every year.  After all, it has been five years since Far East Bank and Trust Company was merged into the Bank of the Philippine Islands.  And it has been eleven years since flights of angels sang its founder to his sleep.  I myself missed it, but, fortunately for me, I was gifted by Ervin Knox, formerly CEO and Country Head of Standard Chartered Bank in the Philippines and now Chief Executive Officer of Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, with The Life and Times of Jose B. Fernandez, Jr., 1923-1994. 

           Written by Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature Hall of Famer, Alfred A. Yuson, The Life and Times of Jose B. Fernandez, Jr., 1923-1994, provides a thorough and intimate account of the public life of Jobo Fernandez seen from the eyes of his family and friends, of  his peers as well as superiors and subordinates.  Beyond the memory we have of him: his glass or pipe in hand (often times, his glass in one hand and his pipe on the other), his thoughts and vision always higher and farther than ours, his heart always in the right place and, as those like us whose yearly profit-share depended on his judgment suspected, never far away from his vest pocket, Yuson’s biography traces a long battle with the Fates that constantly moved him from place to place, from demanding task to demanding task, through the entire gamut of earned adulation and undeserved humiliation, through physical pain and finally spiritual solace.  

        At less than five years of age, Jobo was moved with his family from a center city place, remembered as “Liko” in Sta. Cruz, Manila to the Maude St., in then suburbs called San Juan.  Early elementary he spent in the Mendiola area of San Miguel, first with the sisters of the Holy Ghost College (“Ghost” has now  become the less fearsome “Spirit”), later with the Spanish Benidictine monks of San Beda College.  Soon he was moved  to the American Jesuits at Padre Faura St. (one of few remaining streets in Manila still carrying their historical names) in Ermita and from them he received his education in manhood and scholarship all the way to business school.

           During the war, his father, Jose Fernandez Zorilla, moved the family back to Pila, Laguna.  But young Jobo, like many of his school mates at the Ateneo De Manila, joined the guerillas.  He was with the 45th Regiment of the famous Hunters, also known as the ROTC Guerillas, then led by another Atenean Terry Adevoso operating, aside from Manila, in Laguna, Cavite and Batangas after the Japanese had overrun their camp in Antipolo and killed the group’s organizer, Mike Ver of Mapua Institute of Technology. 

           Before the schools could reopen in Manila after the surrender of the Japanese, Jobo was off to Fordham University in New York.  After four years, he returned to Manila and filed an application for a position at the newly established Central Bank of the Philippines.  But the Fates had determined he was neither ready nor needed there yet.  He was shunted off to the then Philippine Bank of  Commerce where for about a decade, starting as credit manager and exiting as Vice President, he merged the air of school theory with rock reality of experience.

           Then, on 01 June 1959, one day after his last working day at the Philippine Bank of Commerce,  he, with trusty David Choa and faithful Florencia Aguas by his side,  organized Far East Bank and Trust Company.   The Fates had a mischievous grin on their faces as they beheld the Bank starting at Room 210 of the Bank of the Philippine Islands building at Plaza Cervantes in Binondo, Manila.  

           Twenty-five years later, it was time for him to again move on. On 12 January 1984, he took his oath as the sixth governor of CB. As governor he was to stay, even as the Fates violently stirred the cauldron of history, pitching Ferdinand Marcos out of Malacañang and installing Corazon Aquino as president, until his term ended on 19 February 1990. 

           The year following his acquittal by the Sandiganbayan on 15 December 1993 of charges filed in 1990 that he merely simulated his divestments in 1984, the angels decided that the Fates had had their fill of testing him and carried him away. They allowed the Fates, however, to assuage the pain of their humiliation, to paint over the bricks and mortar that made up his bank with the colors of bank where it was born.   But the fire that Jobo lit, the angels left to burn into forever.

           To the care of the Jesuits at the Ateneo University, who with his family had laid the foundations of his value-driven career, was entrusted   “The Gov. Jose B. Fernandez, Jr. Ethics Center” mandated to continue with his confrontation against the defeatist thought that ethics is limited to the realm of theory and ideals and is powerless and useless in meeting the problems of the workplace.  Its aim is to slowly sensitize professionals to ethical issues, provide them with well-thought out tools for solving ethical problems and make available to them the institutional support they need in fighting their ethical battles.

           To his colleagues in public and private finance was given “The Gov. Jose B. Fernandez, Jr. Center For Banking and Finance” at the Asian Institute of Management, tasked to bring together key players in the region’s banking and financial services industry, promoting business alliances, and providing training programs and forums that generate consensus of industry players as well as research on relevant issues and concerns.

          These institutions undoubtedly will carry on the vision that was Jobo’s; but, far closer to his heart (I think) is that, spread out in the landscape of Philippine banking, are those whose lives he somehow touched, yearly gathering to tell and retell the dreams and deeds they shared when once they were at a spot that he sought to run like Camelot.