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Oh no, our best are leaving us!

(Article published in the Oct 28, 2002 issue of TODAY, Business Section)

I am not referring to our young professionals who have started making plans for migrating to other places just in case another Joseph Ejercito Estrada gets elected in the next presidential elections. They, whom Jose Rizal fondly called the hope of the fatherland are, in increasing numbers daily, becoming hopeless of the fatherland. That phenomenon, and its serious implications, is better left to practitioners of disciplines other than mine.

Instead, as we look forward to the coming long weekend, I refer to three great men of my personal acquaintance, who walked in different directions but marched tot he same beat heeding the call of the same Master. In a span of a day more than a fortnight, one after the other, they left this valley of tears and took their places where every tear is wiped away. They and people like them are the reasons why we Filipinos remember our beloved dead on All Saints’ Day, even if November 2 is liturgically more appropriate. We believe, we know, they are.

Jose "Joey" C. Medina Jr. left on October 4, I met him for the first time as the beadle in my class on the Philosophy of Man, a course I taught in the mornings for three years, about four decades ago, at the Ateneo College of Arts and Sciences at Loyola Heights while working for my degree in the evenings at the same university’s College of Law on Padre Faura. He was a very good student among many good ones but he stood out mild and gentle in a crowd that was, on account of age and upbringing, almost by nature’s law and man’s design, rought and boisterous. But there was purpose in his eyes, an unblinking determination, like the focus in the eyes of one sighting a target just before the trigger is squeezed.

Our paths had crossed several times since then, figuratively and literally, but it was only recently, when I started writing on microfinance in the country, that I came to learn of the signular impact he was repeatedly maing in a field not too many of his classmates had ventures into. After a stint with a foreign offshore banking unit, Joey joined the Land Bank of the Philippines and, soon enough befitting his dedication and talent, became the president and chief executive officer of the Peoples Credit and Finance Corp. (PCFC), established sometime in the mid- ‘90s. he began with a tabula raza and built the unit from scratch. Today PCFC is the lead government agency in making small loans (from P3,000 to P9,000) to the poorest of our countrymen. About 660,000 borrowers have benefited from the PCFC through almost 200 conduits and more than 3 million Filipinos have somehow been affected for the better by the P1.8-billion portfolio on lent by PCFC to the poor. All these primarily on account of his stewardship. His colleague at the LandBank, Romeo Glenn B. Sumido, in an unabashed tribute, summed up how Joey poured his heart out for PCFC: "To me and to many, PCFC was Joey Medina, and Joey Medina was PCFC."

Six days after Joey’s death, another man of exceptional achievements followed suit. He lived such a clean and healthy life that I really though that I would go ahead of him. Fernando G. Bautista, tatay to many and Tio Nando to me, lived a full and enviable life from March 10, 1908, to October 9, marked by, inn his modest words, "moderation in all things – except work." He was born in Tondo, Manila, and his boyhood, sold newspapers and magazines (for those who do not mind admitting their age, the Sunday Tribune and Liwayway) and shined shoes. While studying at the Philippine Normal School for four years to be a teacher, he worked on Saturdays as a plumber’s assistant. As a teacher by day, he took on extra assignments, like coaching the school’s athletes, training its declaimers and directing operattas, and as a student by night, he pursued his mater’s degree at the University of the Philippines.

World War II found him in Baguio City, where he had previously moved his family upon accepting a teaching offer from Dr. Francisco Benitez, then dean of the UP College of Education, at a monthly salary of P167.67. in that city, he was to stay until the end; from thence, he was to make his mark.

Shortly after the war ended, he and his wife, Tia Rosa, after briefly taking administrative positions at the Baguio Colleges, established the Baguio Technical and Commercial Institute, which opened its doors to students for the first time for the school year 1948-49. After 21 years, he transformed the vocational school into a center of learning in the north, now known as the University of Baguio. Along the way, he was at one time or another a delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention, a constant presence in Philippine sports as a patron of athletes and director in organizations, and a civic leader in his corner of the world.

A little over a year after Tia Rosa died in 1987, he, then 80 years young, married Mama Anching, then of 75 summers, seven as a widow of Paulino Escueta. Their marriage is grist of many tales of how wondrous the ways of love are and their story spans half a century beginning when he was an English teacher and she a social studies teacher in Santa Ana Elementary School. But through it all, the same passion for education that marked his first marriage characterized his second.

Finally, on October 20, Amado "Dingdong" Austria, a great sportsman (outstanding athlete in his time at the Ateneo College of Arts and Sciences) and straight professional, died as quietly as he lived his last years. He was the commandant when I was in ROTC, but hazed no one, and later became a successful corporate manager without stepping on others. I n our small village, he was an active officer during his prime, and even as a simple community member when he had to slow down, he was a model to us all. He spoke ill of no one; hurt nobody and had a smile to all. In his quiet way, he simply did what he was supposed to do, as he was supposed to do, when he was supposed to do.

These men I shall remember come All Saints’ Day. I believe, I know, they are.