THE TYCOON AND ME
THE TYCOON AND ME
It was an ordinary albeit a dreary day at Davao Penal Colony sometime in 1994, when I was about to complete discussing with my organizational constituents my view on how to manage the penal facility that an officer came rushing in to inform me something. I thought it was somewhat grave, as in an emergency. It has been almost a tradition when a new leader assumes command in a penal institution, he oftentimes is greeted with a so called baptism of fire and the whole organization, including the prison community, would wait for the response. Will he vacillate or not? If he does vacillate, then goodbye to governance, his days as administrator are numbered. If he acts accordingly, then he is made. But the information was not that sudden, nor instant. The fellow merely wanted me to act on the request of Tagum Agricultural Development Corporation (Tadeco) founder for an audience. The founder is the main man himself, an enterprising genius, the person who conceptualized a program that would, in less than a generation, would reap for the country revenue enough to jump start the national economy. He is the star in that part of the province where I was assigned. He is Don Antonio O. Floirendo.
Any legitimate resident of Mindanao knows who Don Antonio Floirendo is. He is the symbol of Banana industries in the country. He is the philanthropist who shaped the corporate social responsibility of the private sector with his charity and social work. Through his singular effort, he was able to provide employment for hundreds, if not thousands of people in Mindanao. He is therefore a legend and has approach the level of heroic stature. He was once suspected as an associate of the discredited former strongman Ferdinand Marcos, although in the final analysis, it was found out that Marcos needed him more than Floirendo needs a Marcos. The sequestration order on the properties of Don Floirendo was immediately lifted. Of course, trivia it may seem, Don Antonio is the father of former three-termer Congressman Antonio (Tony Boy) Floirendo. Don Antonio, likewise is the grandfather of currently Congressman Anton Lagdameo, husband of award winning thespian, Dawn Zulueta.
I was escorted by the men of Don Antonio and off we went to his vacation house, a good 6 kilometers from Davao Penal Colony. It was his guest house in Davao del Norte, one among several houses he built for his personal and business purposes. It was a manor sitting on top of a hilly lot, flanked by a big sprawling lawn with a family size swimming pool and a helipad. On a clear day, from the resort looking veranda, one could see the horizon lined up with green banana tress, thousands of them and bluish mountain range. Having arrived a few minutes later, I was ushered into the living room and there was the man, standing with a little stoop but stern looking from the way he posed. He turned around and greeted me. “So you are the new Superintendent of Dapecol young man.” I was of course a little shy, acting coyly so that I will not exude a projection of abrasiveness. “Yes…sir,” I uttered, showing some acting also. My escort withdrew from the scene and we were alone inside the beautifully arranged mansion. I could feel how poor I was in the face of such luxurious surroundings. But I could not care less since I am with a great entrepreneur, the icon of southern Philippine development. It is just a pity that I have no camera to capture such rare moment. Having no photograph to show, my interaction would only be suspected.
The grand old man, he was at that time around a spritely 78 year old executive, walked slowly and whispered, “How are you?” He placed his arm around my shoulder and continued, “You know, Dapecol is a good place. It has been a no man’s land before but now it is a busy hub on production. Prisoners are earning something and there is little unemployment in this part of the province. Dapecol has a special spot in my heart. ”
“I am privileged to be your visitor and my organization is twice privileged for your contribution to our rehabilitation sir.” I almost replied haltingly but I must sound confident lest he might misunderstand me for an idiot. “May I be extremely privileged sir to know the secret of your success?” I immediately asked. I was hoping to capture the thoughts, the principles, the ideas and yes, those precepts which guided this man to overcome hardship and attain what others could only have dreamt for. There were lots of pictures in his house, indicating his ascension to high society, and of course the house, almost like a dream palace. Success is shown from the design, the position, even how the manor was configured, the choice of furniture, the view, everything. He is indeed the most successful businessman of Mindanao and even the political kingpins reckon his presence and accomplishments. He must have a set of guidelines, if not amulet, for winning. Truly, the brain of this man must have a lot of thoughts and his belief may even be a factor. He walk through solemnly and behind him are achievements.
Don Antonio smiled and retorted, “You are the only person who asked me that. I was expecting those close to me to seek the same query but no one dared asked me the question. I thought that I have not made so much yet and so I have to persevere further. Anyway, since you asked me that question, I really would like to share it to you. It is a secret actually. I would have kept it a long time ago and would have kept it further. But age is catching up and I better turn it over, I mean the secret, to anyone who would have the readiness to receive it.” In my mind, I was already congratulating myself, for my acting, for my projection, for persuading the man to surrender to me his secret. I was even trying to retrace my steps, reviewing if I really projected someone who is capable of applying the secret, or I merely looked like somebody who is a weakling in need of some nutritious words. Anyway, I was about to receive the secret and whatever could be the reason, the point is I have succeeded where others failed or were just too timid to explore. I was all ears but I have to feign inferiority. Superior people hate braggadocio. I was even trying to make some limping movement to project some kind of foolhardiness.
The grand old man limped also as if telling me that we both are trying to outsmart another but he leaned close to my right ear and whispered, “Listen to this young man, keep three things in your mind and never depart from it. These are my secrets. One: HARD WORK,………. two: HARD WORK, and finally, three: HARD WORK.” The pause on the first, made my heart pound harder. I thought that I would have to get my pen to scribble notes. But it was followed by two more points similar to the first. That was after all THE secret. I nodded my head to confirm that I have understood his statement. I tried to look satisfied and fulfilled although I was expecting some kind of a treaty in summary form. It was indeed a formula, a simple one, but a very difficult act to undertake. I have known a lot of people who tried their very best, even using “hard work” as their middle name but they barely could survive. Nonetheless, having been given the magic words, it would amount to a closing remark and basis for my departure from the scene.
After sipping the last drop of coffee from the mug, I expressed gratitude for the time offered and of course for the secrets shared. He had some parting words though, “Mr. Superintendent, if you have any concerns which you wanted addressed, and just let me know. I will send a delegation of my officers to your office to help you out in your other requirements.” That was signal for me to bid the good man adieu. It was a pleasing moment, a delightful episode. For a while, I was with a tycoon, a man of substance and he shared his luxury to me. While I was about to walk slowly towards the main door, my host gestured for me to slow down.
He tagged my arms and said, “By the way, young man, you know, you remind me of myself in my youth.” Of course, I know fully well that Don Antonio at times could be playing politician. Don Antonio has a mestizo feature, aquiline nose, stern eyes, thin lips and the complexion of a Caucasian. My personality is the exact opposite. He motioned to me to listen for another instruction, “Before you go, I will show you a room in this house which nobody has ever entered. It is my room. No one has seen what is inside, but I want you, as my special friend and guest, to have a privilege of seeing and appreciating it.” I was nonplussed to hear it. I thought that my host would finally disclose how wealthy he is. I was already imagining the golden desk, the bed with diamond tiara on the canopy, the library and a number of vaults. He reached from his pocket the keys and fitted it on the knob. My heart was pounding hard, my eyes were no longer blinking, my temperature is almost feverish. I hope nothing would be lost should I come through the room or else I am a goner. It was one place which I do not wish to get lost but of course, it is one place any mortal would desire.
The door was opened and the Don reached for the switch. It was pitch dark. I could not from my position determine the space inside. The house has a dim light and it could not penetrate into the darkened room. He accosted me a few steps from the door towards the room, the farthest we would negotiate. The lights were turned on and behold, the area was empty. “Here is my room Mr. Superintendent. You may wonder how come there is nothing in it” he curtly said. I replied, “Well, …sir…it’s a prerogative….” I could not exactly find the right word actually because I am dumbfounded. He continued, “wealth is not what you keep, it is what you share.” Then we retreated , the man locked the door of his room and he escorted me to the main door. As I walked away, I could feel the eyes and presence of the great man accompanying me up until my escort showed up. How I wish to look back but I was immersed with thoughts he gave me.
From that time on, I would keep the memory of such encounter and express enlightenment in all my undertaking as a government officer.
(After a year, I would leave Dapecol to take another assignment. In 2001, I would be back and pay a courtesy visit to the Don. A year and a half, I would be recalled to central office. In 2007, I would return back to Dapecol and the Don, already in his 90s, still spritely and still exuding the secret smile I would notice from the first time I saw him. Already 95, the Don is still hale and calm. I would meet him occasionally and every time our paths would cross, which at this time is seldom, and whenever our eyes would meet, he would greet me with an enigmatic smile as if telling me that everything I have should be shared. For me, it was as if he was telling me that that is the way to be wealthy.)