Cesar Buenaventura’s story

I call him CAB, short for Cesar A. Buenaventura. He is regarded as the grand old wise man of Philippine society having played, through the decades – and until now – invaluable roles in our country’s continuing journey.

The first Filipino CEO and chairman of Shell Group in the Philippines, CAB is a nonagenarian but he is far from retired and his memory is still very sharp. He is still very much active in business circles and on the golf course – nine holes usually, twice a week.

He is regarded as a Master Yoda of sorts to many listed companies including the sprawling Consunji and Razon business empires.

Equipped with an engineer’s mind; armed with decades of experience working for Shell all the way to becoming its first Filipino big boss and trained in crisis as a member of the Monetary Board during the turbulent Marcos Sr. era, CAB, no doubt, has witnessed the best and the worst of Philippine business and politics. 
Anyone at his age surely would have so many stories to tell but CAB’s story is unique because it is one that intersects with our country’s dizzying journey as a society.
The result is a gripping, moving and fascinating story that is as much about a man as it is about the Philippines, immortalized in CAB’s recently published memoirs, I have a Story to Tell.

Here, CAB puts on record not just his personal life but the many turning points he witnessed in our country’s history.

The book, edited by Manuel Quezon III, is an easy read, yet riveting and profound; funny yet poignant; gracious but frank.

I will tell you now that a column about CAB’s memoirs won’t do justice to his story but I write this anyway as a record of his record and, more importantly, in gratitude to the man for his service to this nation of 114 million.

There are countless interesting anecdotes in the book. It’s also a visual diary of the Philippines during World War II, including his growing up years with his siblings including the late great central bank governor Rafael “Paeng” Buenaventura.

EDSA People Power

I cannot squeeze in CAB’s whole story here but I will put the spotlight on some behind the scenes from those years that followed after the historic EDSA People Power as we commemorate today the 38th anniversary of the bloodless revolution.

There is a chapter on Joker Arroyo, the executive secretary of Corazon Aquino, as CAB sets the record straight on how he viewed the late politico.

Joker, CAB said, “would put stacks of appointment papers mostly for LGUs and judges before Cory. While Cory was signing them, he would make all sorts of chismis about these people. He would come up with something about somebody’s personal life to shock, amuse or distract.”

“He was also effective at easing people he didn’t like out of Cory’s circle of confidence.”

CAB, too, got on Joker’s bad side because CAB blocked one of Joker’s attempts to have a problematic banker appointed to the Monetary Board.

Perhaps in retaliation, Joker went to lawmakers to denounce CAB for Shell’s deals with the government, which CAB said were completely legitimate.

In a gesture of self-abnegation, CAB resigned from the Monetary Board, which Cory eventually accepted.

As for Joker, he was fired as part of a Cabinet overhaul.

Jimmy Ongpin

But all these troubles and infighting led to cracks in Cory’s government and put dark clouds on the miracle that was EDSA.

The tragedy of Cory’s finance minister Jimmy Ongpin is one such sad and regrettable tale. A Greek tragedy pales in comparison.

CAB quotes Lewis Gleeck, a foreign observer who summed up what happened to Ongpin.

“It was Ongpin’s courageous attacks on the Marcos government which shamed the Makati financial community into active, rather than passive resistance. The brilliant and kinetic young man thus fueled Cory’s campaign with both funds and fervor. He then became a major factor against the resistance of other Opposition leaders – in converting Cory herself from a symbol of martyrdom into the paramount political leader of the Opposition.

“It was he, finally, who led the onerous international debt negotiations against not only the resistance of creditors but the guerrilla attacks on his policies by the combined forces of Filipino ultra-nationalists and the Leftists.

“When the President sacrificed him to his enemies inside and outside the Cabinet, it was not only a shock to the national financial community (which was about to award him recognition as the currently most impressive of finance ministers), but to Filipinos, who traditionally put utang na loob – a debt of gratitude – at the apex of its value system.”

Jimmy Ongpin took his own life on Dec. 7, 1987, three months after being dismissed from government as part of an overhaul following a military coup attempt.

There are many more stories that CAB has so generously shared in his memoirs. As I said, my words aren’t enough to do justice to his beautiful story.

But it is no doubt a worthy read and an invaluable record of the developments that may help explain why we are where we are today.

Most of all, it is an inspiring tale about a man who worked hard – and continues to do so – to make this country better than when he first saw it.

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Email: eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at EyesWideOpen on FB.

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