Vicente Paterno: Nation Builder

Joan Orendain (The Philippine Star) - September 1, 2013 - 12:00am

 Joan OrendainMANILA, Philippines - Standing on the Philippine Plaza Hotel’s curb watching other senators get into their cars some years ago when Vicente Paterno was a senator himself, he said to his companion “Oh good, he’s riding a small car.”

The venerable gentleman is the antithesis of flashy, or loud, or attitudinizing, caring least for himself, but most for his native land, its people, and its future.

For his life’s work — at 87, he is hardly done — he was awarded the Ramon V. del Rosario Award for Nation Building, given him a few weeks ago by previous awardees and a few other good men of integrity.

On another occasion immediately after Typhoon Aring which had turned virtually all of Central Luzon into a giant lagoon in November 1980, Minister of Public Highways Paterno had already announced his resignation, due that weekend.

But lo and behold, from a chopper on a Sunday, a reporter saw his Highways’ bulldozers hard at work in Pangasinan, and someone said he was in the vicinity directing the repair of broken roads and fallen bridges. “Good to the last drop,” as an old soft drink commercial used to advertise.

“Always maintain your independence,” his mother, Jacoba Tirona of Imus, Cavite and a teacher at age 14,  advised him. The adherence to his mother’s words may partially explain why Paterno marches to his own drum, doing what’s right, seeing where he can do the most good, oblivious of an audience.

Born in Quiapo in 1925, he graduated from the University of the Philippines with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering. Forthwith, he applied his knowledge as a mill engineer at the Roxas’ sugar mill, the Central Azucarera de Don Pedro in Nasubgu, Batangas where he worked for three years.

He went on to Harvard, graduating with a Master of Business Administration (with Distinction) degree in 1953.

There were “few management opportunities to be found in Filipino companies” in the 1950s, but he joined a startup firm. PHINMA, the Philippine Investment Management Consultants, was led by former government official Filemon Rodriguez and businessman Ramon del Rosario, who had left his job as general manager of IBM, then executive vice president of Philamlife to form DRB (Del Rosario Brothers) with  his brothers, then finally, PHINMA.

Paterno was a consultant to Bacnotan Cement, PHINMA’s first project, and was promoted to general manager in 1958.

Eugenio Lopez Jr., his batchmate at Harvard,  recommended Paterno to his father to replace the retiring treasurer of Meralco, an American, where he rose to become general manager.

Cesar Virata invited him to take over the chairmanship of the Board of Investments, where he served from 1970 to 1979, inclusive of his years as Minister of Industry from 1974 onward.

“Men came with little notes from President Marcos to allow deviations from our department rules,” and Paterno “began to look seriously for ways to exit from the Marcos government…by accepting my appointment as head of the corrupt Ministry of Public Highways on condition that after a year, I’d leave government.”

His biggest problem, of course, was how to identify the most corrupt employees, but avoid a witch hunt. Ballots were distributed for an election of sorts, to list down the three persons most responsible for the Ministry’s bad public image. Of 1,000 ballots, Number One got 72 percent, Two 61 percent and Three 53 percent. Marcos allowed the first two to be fired, but not the third, a congressman’s brother.  

He credits his “Mr. Clean” image in government to his wife, Socorro Paz Pardo, whose handicraft exports business supported their five children’s education.  “You allowed me to say No to anyone,” he acknowledged in his award acceptance speech.

With only a million pesos to invest in a business, he, his brother-in-law Titoy Pardo, and a third person put in equal shares to set up Philippine Seven Corporation, the first round-the-clock convenience store.

President Cory Aquino asked him to run for the senate; he left the business but rejoined it in 1992. Parenthetically, he says it was a thrifty Senate with salaries at P20,000 a month, and Countryside Development Funds of a maximum of P15 million each.

As hugely successful as 7-Eleven has been, his favorite topic, nevertheless, is telling the story of Masicap. Paterno had made it the core of a new Bureau of Small Industries in 1974 when a CICM priest, Fr. Georges Piron, offered it to him at the Ministry of Industry.

After training 100 senior university live-in students for a month on how to prepare and file bank loan applications for proponents of small industry projects, they were fielded all over the islands to help clients with loan applications to government and private banks. Six hundred students assisted thousands of small projects like that until Paterno moved to Public Highways in 1980.

Over a hundred gathered alumni (no longer students) in the year 2000 pushed for Masicap’s revival, which Paterno agreed to on condition that Masicap-2 operated as a private enterprise, and that it confined itself to Mindanao.

Again, Masicap-2 trained students as they had in the seventies, but their services would be provided only to local government units which would shoulder the direct costs of the operation of teams (three per team of trained students) sent to their jurisdiction.

Overhead costs of the Masicap MSME Foundation (he is chairman and president), for recruitment, 30 days live-in training and their field supervision, are borne by the alumni and the Paterno family.

In eleven years, it has assisted 2,200 small firms, of which 1,360 applicants have received P687 million or an average of P500,000 each. Paterno encourages alumni to tell congressmen and senators the Masicap story so they may replicate it elsewhere to create new productive employment.

Closing his acceptance speech at the awarding ceremony, he asked the audience to “please wish Masicap good fortune in this new project.”

No lightweight in the corporate community, Paterno has been a president of the Management Association of the Philippines, and chairman of the Makati Business Club.

“Wise Old Owl” Washington SyCip, last year’s recipient of the same award, praises this year’s awardee: “Ting Paterno, a man of great integrity, served different presidents without anyone criticizing his honesty and competence. His unselfish career in the private sector was equally successful and contributed greatly to the national economy.”

The Ramon V. del Rosario Award for Nation Building is a project of the Junior Chamber International Manila, in cooperation with the Asian Institute of Management Ramon V. del Rosario Center for Corporate Social Responsibility. It recognizes individuals who best exemplify corporate citizenship coupled with an underlying passion for nation-building.

Named in honor of the Manila Jaycees’ founding president and the acknowledged Previous awardees from 2010 onward apart from SyCip are Ambassador Jesus Tambunting, former Agriculture Secretary Senen Bacani, and Oscar Lopez.

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