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Bernardo M. Villegas

Bernardo M. Villegas

 

My dear friend, Jose (Joe) Romero Jr., recently passed away. It was Joe who initiated me into writing regular columns for this newspaper when almost immediately after I returned in the mid-1960s from my doctoral studies at Harvard, I met him as a fellow economist in the then fledgling Philippine Economic Society, of which he was one of the founders. At that time, among the many hats he was wearing, he was the Business Editor of the largest circulating paper, the Manila Bulletin.

He asked me to write a weekly column for the business pages and since then I have not stopped sharing my views with the public on business and economic issues. We immediately struck a friendship that has lasted all these years. I would like to pay tribute to Joe through this column and ask the readers to say a prayer for the repose of his soul.

Joe had a sterling record as a political economist, a member of the Philippine diplomatic corps, business journalist, professorial lecturer, author of numerous books and an authority on the coconut industry of the Philippines. In all these fields in which he excelled he lived to the hilt the spirituality that he learned from St. Josemaria Escriva, Founder of Opus Dei to strive for excellence in everything he did, sanctifying his day to day work, as a means of giving glory to God.

He got in touch with Opus Dei almost at the very beginning of the apostolate of the Work in the Philippines during the 1960s. In no time at all, he understood the message of St. Josemaria Escriva, about the universal call to sanctity. He was instrumental in helping the two of us start the Center for Research and Communication as an economics think tank serving primarily the private sector. He generously offered a space in his office as Executive Director of the United Coconut Authority of the Philippines (UCAP), a private association of coconut producers, to serve as the first office of CRC before it moved to a more permanent venue on Jorge Bocobo St., in Malate, Manila.

It was second nature to him to implement what St. Josemaria taught about apostolate being an overflow of one’s interior life. From the very start of his vocation to Opus Dei, he was bringing his personal friends, especially among the media people, to the evenings of recollection we were organizing at the Maynilad Cultural Center at the Maria Orosa St., in Malate. He was also instrumental for our being in touch with international journalists who came to the opening event of the Center for Research and Communication on August 15, 1968 in its new office on Jorge Bocobo St.

It was his very active participation in the Business and Economics Reporters Association of the Philippines (BERAP) that put our fledgling CRC in touch with the highest officials of the country, including the President of the Philippine Republic himself, who gave the address in an inaugural conference of CRC. He was very conscious of the desire expressed by St. Josemaria that we should put Christ on top of every human activity.

Thanks to him, we never forgot that one of the wishes of St. Josemaria is that as we should eventually diversify into other fields in the process of putting up a university. In deciding in which disciplines we should establish educational programs in the future university, we should assign the highest priority to a school for people in media and communications.

Thanks to this ever present influence of Joe in our beginnings, we now have our School of Integrated Marketing Communications, which integrates journalism, advertising, marketing, public relations and related fields of communications. Joe was also very influential in the establishment of the Asian Institute of Journalism.

This constant awareness of the need to put Christ on top of every human activity led him to build on his appointment during the time of President Corazon Aquino as Philippine Ambassador to Italy a long-term commitment to the world of diplomacy. He was active in the organization of the Council for Foreign Relations in the Philippines and actually headed it as President for quite a while. He was always in touch with both local and foreign diplomats, organizing workshops, conferences and seminars for them.

His deep knowledge of international relations made him a popular resource person on television talk shows and contributor to journals and magazines on topics related to international relations.

In fact, he took very seriously the advice of St. Josemaria about the apostolate of the written word by writing numerous books on the political economy of the Philippines, combining his knowledge of political science and economics with his deep interest in history, which he cultivated during his studies in Cambridge University in the UK and Georgetown University in the USA.

He took very seriously the principles and tenets of the Social Doctrine of the Church, especially on social justice and the preferential option for the poor. He was one of the few experts on the coconut industry in the Philippines, in which some of the poorest Filipinos are eking out a meagre living. He headed several public corporations in the coconut industry and always fought for the welfare of the small coconut farmers, often times going against strong political forces trying to control the industry for personal gain.

Up to the very end of his life, he espoused the interests of the small coconut farmers, combining his thorough technical knowledge of this complex industry with his convictions founded on such principles of the social doctrine of the Church as the principle of subsidiary, the principle of solidarity and the common good. One can actually say that now that he is in the next world, he could very well be an intercessor for those laboring for the good of the coconut farmers.

Even more important than his professional commitments was his role as a doting father to his three daughters and grandchildren. He made sure he was in close contact with each of them, despite the fact that they lived in different parts of the world. He would regularly visit them wherever they were, in the US, in Europe, in Singapore and elsewhere, always following closely their progress as professionals and as parents. In fact, it was in one of these visits to the US when he fell seriously ill and eventually passed away.

In some conversations with him, he always expressed great pride in the accomplishments of his grandchildren. Up to the very end of his life, he was also a doting “Lolo” to each of them. I am sure that now that he is in the bosom of God, he will continue to intercede for all of them, as well as for the many underprivileged coconut farmers whose lives he always wanted to improve in his capacity as an industry leader, banker and public official.

For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.

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