A TRIBUTE TO DON ANTONIO FLOIRENDO
I had a rare privilege of meeting Don Antonio Ocampo Floirendo. He is better known to his business colleagues and corporate lieutenants as AOF. He is an engineer by profession and hailed from Northern Luzon who braved the southern part of Mindanao in search for some options to carry on his ideals. The sturdy folks of which Ilocanos are known for must have rubbed off, as he explored areas to develop. Ilocanos were known to have volunteered as kinsmen when Hawaii was an island outback. They were explorers conquering every opportunity whether it is business or politics. He was one of them. And he went to Mindanao to prove his point.
There were stories of his youth in his chosen province. He opened a small stall he amusingly called Davao Motor Sales. (Later it would be abbreviated as Damosa, an informal locale more known than its formal municipal title.) It is of course a store for car parts. AOF relished on restoring vintage vehicles, restoring its glorious look, giving it more luster and life. And every politician of Manila visiting Mindanao, passing through Davao, would be met by a dashing young man, with a spanking vehicle ready to tour and service the newly arrived VIP. One of these constant visitors was an equally dashing politician who would become President one day: Ferdinand Marcos. It was this friendship that would change the mindset of AOF. Both were hardy Ilocanos to start with and both were singular of mind when it comes to their destination. Marcos was to politics, AOF was on commerce. Both reached the apex of their dreams through sheer hard work. Marcos however never made it good in history.
I have known AOF since 1994—a good 18 years, to date —a generation actually, and from then on, I never left my awareness, studying the brilliancy of the man. And since then I have heard a lot of anecdotes on how the man moves around. According to his staff, his prominence allows a certain degree of respect even from traffic cops manning intersections. They would allow his vehicle to pass through. But when AOF inspects the vast banana plantation where there is criss-crossing of cable wires along the path towing a bunch of banana, his vehicle grounds to a halt until the last bunch passes through. That is, I suppose, only driver-talk and a bit apochripal. Besides, it is no-brainer.
But listen to this. A group of soil technicians were huddled for a conference, discussing how to vacate a patch of banana farm if only to improve its soil condition. A spirited group of scientists argued that spraying the soil with carbon will enhance the nutrients of the loam. Another group of veteran agriculturists, having noted that the soil is already “tired” must be given a fresh swish of fertilizers. Several other proponents were submitting one approach with another, until AOF dropped by to listen to the discussion. All the recommendations bordered on a funding facility worth millions, an expense which may prove economical in the long run according to computations. AOF was a bit exhausted from his regular farm visitation and it’s understandable since he has celebrated his 95th birthday a few days after. AOF nonetheless listened intently on the deliberation and after hearing every suggestion, offered his gut advice: “Why not bring the inner soil atop; it is not tired, it is nutrient filled and fresh. More so, there is little expense on our part.” That ended the half day conference and the farm had fresh soil after a couple of days of tractor cultivation.
I was privileged to have been personally invited by AOF for a number of occasions. For someone to have walked with dominant people in the corridor of power, for a man who have literally strolled with Kings and Monarchs of the world, sauntered with almost all men of substance in the planet, to be called and be consulted is an honor by itself. To be up-close with the man is already a badge of reverence. There were even instances when he would request for my attention and support. I could just imagine how Jose Rizal felt when government built him a monument in Luneta. The feeling is the same.
I shared something in common with AOF. Both of us smokes a lot. But here lies his difference with the rest of us, ordinary mortals. He is a man not alarmed by his lonesome. He works hard and thinks hard at the same time. He may choose to be recluse and may at times be gregarious. He can be both ways—contemplative and also sociable. He is strict to the point of being a disciplinarian when it comes to work and he can also be playful to the point of losing some games.
AOF traveled around, unlike his wealthy friends, encircled with security personnel with bulging waistlines indicating holstered firearms. He was also assisted by personnel except that these guys were all trained physical therapists! AOF gets a regular dose of massage anytime he repairs in one corner. One never hears his voice increase in crescendo. It is so low that you must have to listen intently on every word he utters. There were neither excitements nor flowery words except for a few lines delivered with a smile.
This is precisely the kind of persona, a cool and stable personality, not given to excitation or provocation that made his senior years stretched to a considerable length. All his peers were of the forceful, assertive and hard hitting kind. He was on the subdued side always. It is only when he decides on something that one comprehends his firm character. At that rate, he has outlived his peers for a considerable period.
He never flaunted the fortune he amassed from sheer hard work. His wealth is reflected on the number of jobs he has created. All by himself, he wiped out unemployment in several towns of Davao. And despite his advancing age, he never slowed down. He wanted to generate more employment, he wanted more lives to save, and he wanted more people to help.
He even gave integrity and introduced work ethics among hundreds, if not thousands of prisoners in Davao Penal Colony.
His crusading spirit knows no bound and notwithstanding his weakening body, he would rather see his people, flourishing in that idea he created for them. Truly, the man is a masterpiece of creation itself. In reality, he never left us. He became a part of everyone, a living part not only of history but of life itself! And life is perpetual.