FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - September 17, 2020 - 12:00am

As my readers may have observed, I’ve been writing about persons of great interest, my contact with them – on account of the coronavirus pandemic done online, by email and chats on Viber – thanks to the wonders of 21st  century technology. I had very close associations with my subject today, Flor Gozon Tarriela. She was once my partner in a short-lived though happy experimentation in a capiz lamp export business, my Bible study companion, my colleague in dried flower arrangements and herb growing. The endeavors we got involved in stopped there, as I could not reach the elevated plane she reached – as the first Filipina vice-president of Citibank N.A. and now,  independent chair of the board of the fourth largest banking corporation, the Philippine National Bank, and an independent  director of Lucio Tan Group and Eton  Properties. Another far-fetched but amazing feat of hers is establishing Flor’s Garden, which  grows edible weeds (weedibles) and medicinal weeds (weedecines) and employs environmental planting technology,  thereby attracting tourists from far and wide.

With the pandemic locking down establishments, Flor conducts business as in pre-pandemic time. All PNB board and committee meetings are done virtually. The PNB annual stockholders meeting was held virtually for the first time this year on June 23, with Flor chairing the meeting from her home in Valle Verde, Pasig. “The meetings being done virtually is proving to be efficient too,” says Flor. “No traffic to navigate from one meeting to the next!” Virtual meetings are held via the internet, without actual face-to-face interaction.

Flor was goal-track minded at a young age. She was looking at the admissions list for the University of the Philippines Preparatory High School. Her name was not in the first, second and third list but was in the waiting list of admitted applicants. She did not fret. “Instead I did what I always do in difficult situations – pray.” Her prayer was answered: she got admitted, calling it “one of many God-given favors that I have been blessed with.”

She embarked on her study with a vengeance. She studied hard, sat in front and listened intently, asked her classmates what they learned from their lessons, “so I can mine their knowledge too,” and she was first to raise her hand when a question was asked.

She finished her economics degree from the UP, then earned her master’s degree in the same field from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) topping,  to her surprise, the master’s comprehensive exams (another one of God’s blessings!) and completing her degree with Grade A in three quarters.

When she came home, she joined Bancom, the premier investment bank then, then after three years, Citibank, where she started as a financial coordinator, analyzing and evaluating long-term credits. She then became vice president and deputy country corporate officer.

About her secret for success, she told an interviewer, “I just try harder and exert more effort. I admit I never felt being a woman was ever an issue for me, even when I worked at a multinational bank. I was the only woman then in the management team. Maybe (I succeeded) because I have a glass-half-full mindset and I do not like to dwell on lost opportunities.”

Flor’s academic prowess and drive for excellence cannot but be attributed to genetics. Her father, Benjamin Gozon, a UP law graduate, was director of the Bureau of Mines, then secretary of agriculture and natural resources, then governor of Land Authority. His integrity and honesty were beyond question; people who knew him confirmed this. He had a perfect match in his wife, Carolina Lapus Gozon, who, realizing her husband would not get rich as an honest government executive so they will not be able to send their children to work for  master’s degrees in universities abroad, decided to engage in business. She made patis (fermented fish sauce) under her house, and drove a jeepney to deliver  her product to clients. She brought with her in her rounds her youngest child, Flor, then aged five.  Unknowingly, she was  exposing her little companion to the business world. With their combined earnings,  Ben and Arling were able to send all their children for studies abroad.

Their eldest son, Benjamin Jr., underwent technical training in Germany and ran the Gozon Development Corporation. Kay went to Montana University for her masters in economics and owns Carolina’s Bamboo Garden, which trains  farmers for bamboo propagation, and Felipe (Henry) went to Yale for his master’s degree in law, and is the chairman and CEO of GMA-Channel 7.

Flor’s mother received for the Gozon family the UP Family Outstanding Alumni Award during UP’s centennial year in 2008, for having three  generations of Gozon UP graduates – Mrs. Gozon (Pharmacy), her husband Ben (UP Law), their four children Ben Jr. (chemical engineering), Felipe (law), Kay (business) and Flor (BSBA economics), and the third generation – Flor’s children Edmin and Ted Tarriela. Mrs. Gozon’s two sisters also attended UP: Norberta Lapus Laurea and Magdalena Lapus Lazaro. Felipe and Kay and Ed Tarriela later were recipients of the UP Outstanding Alumni Award.

Her parents, says Flor, taught their children the values of integrity and  honesty, doing everything to the best of one’s ability, believing in Jesus as “the Source of everything”   and living simply and within one’s means.

The same values are inculcated by Flor and her husband, Ed (managing  partner of Tarriela and Tagao and Ona law office), in their children. Their eldest Edmin is in real estate and helps manage the family salt business in Pangasinan; he and his wife Maggi have two children – CJ, 10, and RB, 9. Second son Ted is based in Florianopolis, Brazil with his wife Vanessa. Daughter Tricia  is based in Guam where she manages properties, and her husband Tom Valderrama is a telecom executive. They have two children – Fernando and Natalia Flor. Tricia is the ever-solicitous daughter, calling her mom to check if she was all right almost ten times a day, and ordering food online from Guam to be delivered to her parents’ home in Pasig.

Flor has not been able to visit her farm in  Antipolo for the last six months. So characteristic of her, she does gardening at home, raising vegetables for the family’s meals. She calls Antipolo by telephone to monitor  the farm hands’ activities. Facebook accounts show Flor’s Garden abloom with exotic and local flowers and edible and medicinal herbs that constitute a medicinal chest.

Flor says: “We follow the natural way of farming and the JADAM way.” JADAM is a set of easy, low-cost farming principles and practices that was established in 1991 by a chemist and horticulturist  named Youngsang Cho.  Accordingly, Flor’s Garden uses various natural inputs such as IMOs (indigenous microorganisms) to provide nutrients to the plants.

Seminars for organic-conscious plant lovers are held at the garden, with former health secretary  Dr. Jimmy Galvez Tan and Andy Lim and Josephine Gamboa as lecturers. The garden has become a tourist attraction.

One thing is sure in the midst of the pandemic: Flor and her family attend church service online: with GCF’s Larry Pabiona, CCF’s Peter Tanchi, Victory, Bread of Life, Rick Warren’s Saddle Back Church. “We also continue our Bible study online. The wonder of technology!”

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