In memoriam
FILIPINO WORLDVIEW - Roberto R. Romulo (The Philippine Star) - December 7, 2018 - 12:00am

Last week there were three personalities who died which had a meaning or relationship with me.  In every instance, it reminds me of my mortality even as I assess my worth to society and how those three individuals affected me and society:

George H.W. Bush – the 41st president of the United States.   He was a good friend of my father and our archives have many photos of the two together. I have never had an interaction with him in an official capacity since it was his successor Bill Clinton who was president when I was foreign secretary under FVR.  But I have had two fleeting moments when our paths crossed which left an indelible impression on me of his character. The first was when I was waiting at the lobby of the Ritz Carlton in New York and he walked in and he offered his hands to me – a complete stranger –and introduced himself “Hi, I’m George Bush.”  Well, of course, I knew who he was the minute he stepped into the hotel. But such was his sense of humility that he did not assume everybody recognized who he was. The second time was narrated to me by my Filipino driver who was waiting for me at Heathrow Airport. He said George Bush chatted with him amiably while waiting for his ride and asked who he was waiting for. He answered, “Secretary Romulo.” George Bush said “oh I thought he had passed.” He was, of course, referring to my father. But such is the measure of the man that he would be humble enough to converse comfortably with a driver. Bush’s presidency was marked by civility and humility, a stark contrast with the current occupant of the White House.

Jon Ramon Aboitiz – chairman and former CEO of Aboitiz Equity Ventures. I met him when he was a college student on a PAL flight.  He impressed me as a charming, gregarious unaffected young man. In the funeral mass last Sunday, Father Villarin of Ateneo de Manila described him as a” jolly fellow,” which he was. But let that not deceive you into thinking he was a frivolous, thoughtless individual. For almost 10 years, I had the privilege to be exposed to the finest management practices in the Philippines with him as the leader of AEV.  His charismatic leadership is legendary in the business community not only in Cebu, but in the entire Philippines. He was a strong believer in good corporate governance even as he built his enterprise into a stock market blue chip. Ironically, I texted him two days before he died: “Jon, I understand you are not well.  Hang in there.  I am the first in line long before you.” He was 71 and I am 80 this month. Little did I know that he would indeed, be ahead of me. I will miss our repartees on the phone, spiced with his earthy Spanish phrases.

Antonio P. Tambunting Jr. – last, but definitely not the least.  “Jun” has been my bosom buddy for the last six decades.  Together with his brother Chuching, we roamed the streets of Washington D.C. from high school to university.  He was my friend, my devil’s advocate, and the one I ran to when despondent.  On weekends, without fail, we did what young people did sometimes without the knowledge of our parents. Thank goodness!  When we returned to Manila, we continued our “get togethers,” but as mature and well behaved husbands. He took pleasure in putting me in my place even when I was a government official. Much will not be said in this column because what we did in DC will be privy to ourselves as treasured memories of our youth.  At the last day novena dinner in Manila Golf, I finally had the opportunity to say what I should have said before:  “Gratitude is meaningless unless expressed, but today I will say it openly thank you for your friendship.” 

May the three mentioned in this column rest in peace.  I am grateful to them in different ways. They will always be in my prayers.

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