‘Set big goals’

Dina Sta. Maria (The Philippine Star) - July 21, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Baseball and theater, sports and the arts are not really such strange bedfellows. Ask Jose Luis – everybody calls him Jolly – Gomez, the new president of Tanghalang Pilipino who is also a commissioner of the Philippine Sports Commission and head of Little League Philippines. He is an accountant and a lawyer, which makes him infinitely suited to these positions – among numerous others – that currently occupy his time.

If you think there’s something wrong with that statement, let him explain. “You don’t have to be a sportsman to run a sports program, or an artist to run an arts company,” he says. “You bring something that the artist or the sportsman doesn’t have... It’s a skills complement.”

He extends this further: A church organization run by the clergy “can take a long time to evolve;” but “when you have lay people supporting the clergy, you get something like GK,” referring to Gawad Kalinga, the phenomenal movement that has provided housing in planned and integrated communities to millions across the country.

What is needed, he insists, is a “different perspective.”

“Artists feel they have to suffer” for their art, but that does not have to be the rule or the necessary reality. Gomez is pushing the artists and staff of Tanghalang Pilipino, the 26-year-old resident theater company of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, “to set big goals” and then to systematically work towards achieving those goals.

His goal for TP is, in a nutshell, to have a viable and vibrant theater company. Getting to that point will, he knows, not be an easy task, and will above all involve a new mindset. He wants everyone – from artists to office staff to those who do the costumes and sets – to claim ownership of the company, and in this aspect Gomez leads by example. Despite his myriad commitments, he is at the TP office at least once a week, holding marathon meetings with managers and staff in addition to watching rehearsals and performances. He keeps a sharp eye on expenditures and is – slowly and, on occasion, painfully – instilling discipline in terms of planning and forecasting requirements to avoid costly emergency purchases that have plagued many a production.

His two immediate goals are health insurance and a sound system, the latter an investment that would pay for itself in equipment rental savings in just a few productions. He is starting with lapel microphones, which were put to excellent use in “Sandosenang Sapatos,” the 26th season opener that ends a very successful run today.

Gomez, most amiable but extremely self-effacing, brings substantial business and managerial expertise to the helm of TP.  

He has been managing director of the Philippines of Reliv International, Inc. since 2000. Reliv makes and markets nutritional supplements in 15 countries. He has extensive experience in business and financial management, having successfully owned and operated companies in various fields. He is part of the Reyes clan of the iconic Aristocrat restaurant.

His non-business involvements are similarly numerous. He is Philippine area coordinator for the Kalogris Foundation, which for over a decade has feeding programs that provide free nutritional supplements to over 13,000 malnourished Filipino children a day in such diverse areas as Cavite, Bulacan, Sorosgon, Talisay and Mangyan kids in Mindoro. He also has a program with inmates of the Makati City jail, teaching them skills and providing high-speed sewing machines for a livelihood project making bags out of tarpaulins. A possible venture to supply a foreign buyer with expensive jackets used by competitive shooters is in the works. He also started a boxing program in the jail.

As sports commissioner (he was appointed by President Aquino in August 2010), he sees an urgent need for sports development in the grassroots. He rues that our national athletes are at or nearly past their prime, and there is no serious program to discover and train future national athletes, a situation he hopes to change one do-able step at a time. Little League Philippines, for example, sponsors youth baseball and softball games. There is a track and field program for kids, and future archers are trained first with bows made out of PVC pipes since real bows are very expensive.

Beyond that, he says he was “shocked” to discover from a survey that only about 22 percent of Filipinos engage in some form of regular exercise. “Imagine the health and medical implications of that,” he says.

Interest in the arts, he laments, is “even worse.”

“If you go around and ask people when was the last time they read a book, or watched a play, or attended a concert, what do you think the answer would be?” He relates that when he brought his office staff to watch TP’s hit musical “Zsazsa Zaturnnah,” the experience opened up a heretofore undiscovered magical world for them.

It is this desire to make the arts available and accessible to the ordinary man that fuels his commitment to TP. “Any good businessman or manager will be able to run an NGO or arts organization,” he says. “The problem is we don’t know how to attract them to these advocacies.”

His personal motivation for getting involved in the arts and sports development and a host of other involvements could provide a key to attracting others to help out. “At the heart of it all I’m a Christian,” he says. “With everything God has given me, I’d be embarrassed not to share, not to give back.”

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