Fr. Tito and ECJ
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - June 23, 2020 - 12:00am

It’s a well-known fact that the late San Miguel Corp. chairman Eduardo M. Cojuangco, Jr. (ECJ) was the La Salle men’s basketball team’s chief patron and supported a lot of projects related to his alma mater. ECJ was a La Salle high school graduate in 1952, attended UP Los Baños and went to California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. He was green-blooded through and through but it didn’t mean an aversion to anything blue.

In fact, ECJ studied at Ateneo before moving to La Salle and owed his educational formation to two Jesuits who were his mentors, Fr. Candelaria and Fr. Cebrero. It was Fr. Cebrero who referred ECJ to his brother Horacio, a La Salle teacher, when he transferred to Taft. During the war years, ECJ’s father Gov. Eduardo Cojuangco Sr. refused to serve under the Japanese occupation government and was constantly on the run from the invasion forces, moving place every four months. ECJ’s elementary education was hardly a constant as he enrolled wherever the family made a temporary home. Santa Ana Parochial, La Concordia, St. Louis in Baguio and San Beda were the schools where he went to class.

When ECJ was a boy, he studied at the public school in his hometown of Paniqui, Tarlac, because that was where the family homestead was. He grew up to a life where his eyes were exposed to the challenges of ordinary people, regardless of social standing, at a young age. His boyhood playmates were children of farmer-tenants and he embraced the fellowship of classmates in school.

As ECJ became an independent man of means and captain of industry, he invested heavily in education, realizing it was the key to an enlightened citizenry and a progressive nation. In Tarlac, he launched a scholarship program called Project Free which led to over 2,000 public school teachers earning Doctorate and Masteral degrees in education with La Salle diplomas through a partnership with La Salle, Tarlac State University and the Department of Education. A pilot Project Free introduced the concept in Negros Occidental.

Fr. Tito Caluag, former Ateneo high school principal and vice president for planning and development and alumni affairs, described ECJ as a “devoted advocate of education in our country.” In a recent message, Fr. Caluag mentioned that his grandfather Judge Hermogenes Caluag was one of the administrators of ECJ’s father’s estate. Judge Caluag was a Quezon City RTC judge in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. “He was a public servant all his life, serving under Quezon before his appointment to the courts, fiscal then judge,” said Fr. Tito. “He was due for appointment as justice to the CA then the Supreme Court but the Tuazons requested him to stay due to their cases and they needed an honest man. Lucio Tan also cited him as a good and honest man. Mr. Tan once told my uncle that if his application for citizenship did not fall under my grandfather’s sala, he would not be a Filipino now since he was poor then and would have no money to ‘grease’ the wheels of justice. My grandfather was close to all of the prominent families back then but never gained favors from them and kept very cherished friendships until his death in 1974.”

Fr. Tito recalled that in the late ‘90s, he flew to Bacolod with Fr. Candelaria to meet with ECJ. “He donated a wing in the Ateneo high school then,” he said. “We had very warm exchanges every time we saw each other, several times in Cubao with the Aranetas for Mass. Ambassador Cojuangco remembered my grandfather fondly and mentioned he was a good and honest man who could have taken advantage of his role but he never did.”

Fr. Tito said he was set to meet with ECJ on the building of a library and learning resource center for future public school teachers at the Teachers College. “We’re opening it to be named in memory of his close Jesuit friend and mentor Fr. Candelaria,” he said. “Ambassador Cojuangco was a kind man, not perfect, but his heart for and devotion to education is worthy of emulation for those who have the extra resources to share. My personal admiration is also the way he remembered my grandfather. For sure, he was young then but for him to appreciate my grandfather’s goodness and honesty and remember, years after, shows Ambassador Cojuangco’s character, too.”

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