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OFW — International development servant

CROSSROADS TOWARD PHILIPPINE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL PROGRESS - Gerardo P. Sicat (The Philippine Star) - August 26, 2020 - 12:00am

Before the term OFW – overseas Filipino workers became widely used for those who work abroad on contracts, there was always a class of countrymen who found work outside the country even as they had good, fulfilling work at home.

The term “brain drain” was more apt as a description of their absence from the country. Of course, they also fit the term OFWs.

Just last week, one whom I knew well and with whom I have spent much personal interaction in the last two decades, breathed his last.

Ignacio D. Maramba (Atio to friends and family) may not be nationally recognized but he was known and highly respected among a narrow circle of colleagues and professionals, both global and national.

He “quietly passed into the night.” He was in his early 80s and had achieved a well-lived life.

An exceptional life. During the closing years of the 1960s, he returned home from graduate study in management at the University of Chicago, shortly after working with Ernst and Young, a big professional management company in the US.

Washington SyCip recruited Atio Maramba into SGV where, initially, he was made to assist Roberto Ongpin, then a whiz kid at the company.

After this early test, SyCip placed him to more stressful assignments where SGV was expanding its operations in East and Southeast Asia. First Washington SyCip sent him to head the Taipei operations. Later, when SGV decided to open tie-ups into South Korea, he was transferred to Seoul. When SGV decided to expand to Malaysia, he was again sent as the advance man to Kuala Lumpur.

SGV’s work in Malaysia got him involved in providing multi-year support services to the government. One such project was a federal land reform project that was financed by the World Bank. His contributions to this project caught the attention of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector institution of the World Bank group.

When IFC offered him a job, he struggled with a hard decision because his work at SGV was very challenging and rewarding on its own. He had already become a partner.

In the end, he left SGV and moved to Washington D.C. One reason for this decision was that he could now be much closer to his growing, young family.

Washington D.C. and the world. At the IFC, his work focused on helping to improve the growth of the private sector in many parts of the world. He had a chance to participate in the analysis and review of IFC’s financing and investing in the institution’s investments and private sector promotion in many countries, including the Philippines.

He worked on important assignments. In the mid-1980s, he headed IFC’s investment operations in Europe. Then later, he was appointed to head the agency’s operations in Africa, where he traveled to many countries of that continent to promote IFC’s mission. He got to know Africa well. He participated in the project that finally led to the founding of the Africa Development Bank.

Atio took early retirement and returned to the Philippines to live in the ancestral family home in an old compound in Manila, where he spent his last years. He found time and used his own resources to help the young in his Pangasinan village become more literate in math.

His route toward higher learning. Perhaps, all this had depended on a lucky, unintended break in his life.

Atio told me this story in a long letter after reading a Crossroads column that I had once written concerning graduate school grants. He explained how luck looked kindly in his own case.

I summarize his story below, borrowing from his own words:

He went to the US along with a brother who had just visited Manila and was returning to a new job in Chicago. To do this, he gave up his own job in an agro-industrial firm and packed up all his meager savings in the safety of brotherly hospitality.

One day, after visiting the city’s Museum of Science and Industry on his way to the train station, he accidentally saw the directions to “The University of Chicago.” This famous graduate university had a School of Business. There, he found the office of the dean of admissions of the Graduate School. Pushing an open swing door, he found a secretary in the office. Before he could explain his curiousity, and here, I quote Atio’s letter to me,

“… A gentleman with a big smile asked who I was. He invited me to his office and we talked…. After more than an hour, he asked if I was interested in studying in the school and I said ‘yes.’  He said that the summer quarter would start the next week (it was the first week of June) and that I could start school. He made me promise two things: (1) I would take the ETS examination in July when Princeton University conducted it in the University of Chicago; and (2) I would submit my transcript of records when I got them from UP.”

Luckily, he had some savings of $200 to enable him to pay his initial summer tuition. The dean of the School, George Schultz (who would, much later, become US Secretary of State) suggested to him that he could take an interest-free loan to pay for tuition for the rest of his studies. He could pay this back at $50 per month when he had found work after his studies.

Of course, through that conversation the dean of admissions discovered a low-risk graduate student prospect when he talked with one. Besides, he had studied at La Salle and UP, schools known to Chicago’s admissions dean. That he could talk well in English was gold. Foreign students often had language as a big problem.

Atio indeed had a lucky charm. In those days, even reputable schools were under pressure to internationalize their student body and to implement affirmative action in the enrollment of minorities into the student body. Moreover, the Vietnam War (it was 1965) had reduced the pool of qualified young graduates because they were getting drafted into the military. The school was hard-pressed to get good students.

My email is: gpsicat@gmail.com. For archives of previous Crossroads essays, go to: https://www.philstar.com/authors/1336383/gerardo-p-sicat. Visit this site for more information, feedback and commentary: http://econ.upd.edu.p h/gpsicat/

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